Police criticized

"Suicides" really honor killings?

Swedish police are being criticized for a lack of knowledge about suspected honor murders of young women and girls here - too easily assuming that these are suicides.

This wastes valuable time in the investigations - spoiling the chances of any successful prosecution of the potential culprits.

Swedish Radio News reports that the police in this Nordic sensation suspect a dozen cases of reported suicides since 2006 were possibly honor killings - the murder of young women and girls in mostly immigrant families - by parents or brothers outraged that the girl has refused orders to marry someone against her will … or defying the family's honor by dating a Swede or other boy friend not approved for cultural, ethnic or religious reasons.

Leif Franson is a policeman in the southern Swedish city of Malmö, and maintains that one case there concerned a 28-year old woman who arrived in this country only a few days before she was found dead - fallen or thrown from a high apartment building balcony.

He says the initial conclusion was that this was an accident.

He argues that such a conclusion can have devastating consequences for the investigation… that time can be lost and that it's hard to backtrack once those months are lost.

Both police, experts, researchers and the police themselves admit that they are sometimes missing the boat and letting possible killers escape.

A number of the deaths have involved victims falling from windows or balconies - giving them the gruesome general label of "balcony women" . But other cases have involved overdoses of pills - or hangings.

What can be missed by a wrong classification?

Franson says the first very obvious: fencing off the scene of the death to gather evidence. An accident simply doesn't require the same hawk-eye search as a suspected murder case.

Devin Rexvid is a sociologist at the University of Umeå in northern Sweden, and has been studying the cases of the balcony women. He insists that these are very difficult to study and demand special knowledge - something the police don't have.

He says the best thing to do is to rely on experts - and in the cases he knows where this has been done, the results have been much better.

The sociologist adds that he has nothing against general education in the police corpse - but that in the 2/12 years of police training, only a short time is dedicated to honor killings. It's better to rely on expert groups.

Ulrika Herbst is a department chief at the national police board and agrees that something has to be done to make sure more murders are not covered up as suicides.

Asked what kind of grade she would give to the police since not one of the 12 balanony women cases have let to a guilty verdict, she says a simple answer would be that this is a failing grade. But she adds that the police are trying to solve these cases in a legal and professional way.

In the meantime, defenders of both male and female victims of honor killing here in Sweden continue their campaigns and education programs - trying to convince the authorities to take such violence and tragedy seriously - and to convince both immigrant and Swedish families to give their children the freedom to choose their own life styles and partners - without the fear of retaliation.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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