A Question of Honor
There is a home with no address somewhere on a deserted road in Jutland, Denmark. The authorities call the residence a Safehouse, even though it looks like any other house.
In reality, it is a secure residence with surveillance cameras and tinted windows. Its purpose – to protect a group of teenage girls from honour-related conflicts. Authorities define them as various forms of social control or a particular code of honour imposed on them by their families. Girls in these families are at risk of being sent on a re-education to a home country they've never been to; might be pressured into forced marriage or abusive punishments such in the form of incarcerating at home or even physical violence. In the most extreme cases, the consequences of such honour-related conflicts can be fatal.
These girls are in a tension-field between fear of negative social control at home and love for their family. At Safehouse, they attempt to create their own identity and trying to have an ordinary teenage life.
Sofia, 12 years old, lies in her room. She is the youngest in the house, and the other girls see her as a young sister. The youth workers say that a lot of the girls arrive here with anxiety, insecurity issues with mixed feelings about their families – they hurt them, but they still love and miss them.
Sofia suffers from nightmares. Her room is the closest to the guardroom so that youth workers can always hear her during the night.
Malak, 15 years old, was born and raised in Syria, but when the war broke out, her mother sent her to Denmark. Since 2015 the Danish National Police have registered 907 reports of honour-related cases. Malak is among them. She explains how they controlled her phone, about the incarceration in her room and the threat of having her head shaved because she flirted with a boy from her class. She explains that her uncle is strong and punches hard when he is angry.
Jamila, 14 years old, has only been at Safehouse Jylland for a month. "I can't go outside without a responsible adult or have a phone. I am not allowed to have any contact with my family" says Jamila. Jamila's risk evaluation has been classified as "high". She will not be seeing her family for the next year. It is her father that has put her in danger. She overheard him talking about a one-way ticket to the home country she has never been.
On the wall in Malak's room, she made three kisses in red lipstick. On her table lies her temporary residence permit. In the picture on the residence permit, she is wearing a headscarf. "It was for my father's sake", she explains. On her new residence permit, she finally gets to decide how the picture is going to look. Malak is scared that the residence permit won't be approved. In that case, she will be deported from Denmark with her father.
Amira and Malak are hugging. Amira soon moves out of Safehouse Jylland. Amira feels that she is ready to move into her apartment, but she will miss her sisters at Safehouse Jylland. After four years of living in the house, it has become hard to say goodbye. Safehouse Jylland is one of five secure residences in Denmark that the authorities have approved for housing children and teenagers from minority groups who are in urgent need of protection because of honour-related conflicts.
Jamila wanders in the dusk. She is happy when she is talking to the girls in the house. "We all come from the same culture and carry the same things from our families", Jamila says. The Safehouses primary purpose is to ensure the safety of the girls. That involves a secret address, an evacuation plan and code names. An equally is an integral part of the safe house is that the girls socialize with other teenagers and find their own identity.
Amira and Sofia. During weekends they're allowed to do sleepovers in the Safehouse. They decided to have a movie night, eat candy and have a slumber party in Amira's room. Amira is not Sofia's older sister, but she feels that way. "I instantly wanted to take care of her. A 10-year-old girl should not be in a place like this", Amira explains. The two girls were up late last night talking about the messy thoughts in Sofia's head that makes it hard for her to sleep.
Malak is not angry at her culture or religion, but her father and uncle: "My mom is also a Muslim, and she only wants what is best for me. At one point, she was surrounded by doubt and the thought that everything that happened to her was her fault. That she could have avoided everything, the violence and the control, had she just done as she was told. Sometimes when I can't sleep, I wonder why it happened to me? I was just in love."