The Facts About Forced Marriage
In 2011, San Diego absorbed more refugees and asylum seekers than any other city in the United States, in addition to many other persons who arrived as immigrants. L2F has already provided services to a handful of
girls and young women who were facing forced marriages, and understands the tremendous difficulties that these situations pose, given the lack of formal remedies and supports that exist for girls and women in these
situations. L2F believes it is imperative that California and those communities therein that are home to large numbers of refugees and immigrants begin to address the realities of forced marriage. It is necessary to prepare those agencies and individuals that are most likely to come into contact with girls and young women who have been committed to forced marriage to provide assistance from a knowledgeable position. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that these girls and women will only gain meaningful power in this context when laws are written and enshrined that make the facilitation of forced marriage unlawful and that provide for meaningful strictures and penalties against those who would promote it.
The Tahirih Justice Center, headquartered in Virginia, is the leading organization in the United States addressing forced marriage. Last year, the Center conducted the first nationwide survey specific to forcedmarriages in the United States (Survey on Forced Marriage in Immigrant Communities in the United States, Tahirih Center, 2011). L2F participated
in this survey. The survey found evidence of as many as 3,000 cases of known or suspected forced marriage in the preceding two years, which the director of the Center suggested was likely a modest indication of the
actual incidence of this practice. Over 500 respondents from 47 states participated. The survey found that:
• Forced marriage is evident in immigrant communities from 56 different countries, and affects people of diverse faiths.
• Two out of three respondents (67%) felt that there were unidentified cases of forced marriage in their service populations.
• Less than 10% of respondents said they had a working definition of forced marriage at their agency, and less than a quarter of respondents (22%) said their agency’s screening and referral process enabled them to identify cases where forced marriage might be of concern.
• Less than one in five respondents (16%) said that their agency was properly equipped to help individuals facing forced marriage.
• Almost half of respondents (46%) who provided information on particular tactics used against victims reported that victims had been subjected to actual physical violence.
Awareness in Britain of the violence and tragedy that have come from instances of forced marriage, and from young women’s struggles for self determination in the face of the bonds forced on them, has led to legal remedies. Today, anyone in Britain who believes a girl may be in a situation of forced marriage can request a court injunction against the
girl’s family or community. Family members can be forced to surrender their passports and can be barred from applying for new ones to keep them from taking the girl out of the country. More than 300 such orders have been issued since the act came into force, and violators are subject to up to five years in prison (M. Goldberg, Marry—or Else, Newsweek, 9/18/11).
Awareness of these realities lag substantially in the United States. There is no such legislation to protect this child, youth, and young adult victims here, and those who are most likely to gain an awareness of forced marriage generally find that there is little they can offer by way of protection when attempting to intervene in these situations. The director of the Tahirih Center has received calls regularly from police, school administrators, social workers, and even the offices of political representatives seeking to help girls whose parents were coercing them into unwanted marriages.
Tahirih’s director related an anecdote of a girl in this situation who was taken to a city-run children’s home. Child Protective Services had no protocol for addressing such a case, and the lack of evident physical abuse or imminent danger meant that the shelter was unwilling to take her in. The girl was returned to her family and never heard from again. Girls and young women who attempt to run away from these situations often face one or more of three outcomes: they become dead to their families, who shun them and never speak to them again; the family brings the girl home forcibly and succeeds in returning the girl to the homeland and forced marriage; or the family engages in an ‘honor killing’ in an attempt to recapture the family’s dignity and place in the community, which the girl or young woman is considered to have sullied by her action
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While immigrants and refugees in the United States may be half way around the world from their homelands, cultural dynamics and customs often remain very much alive in these communities, and strong links often remain between those in America and their home societies, communities, neighbors, and families. In a significant number of refugee and immigrant communities in the United States, forced marriages occur. In a forced marriage, at least one party does not consent or is unable to give informed consent to the marriage, and some element of duress is generally present (U.S.Department of State, Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 7). In these situations, it is not uncommon for a daughter to have been promised to a man she has never met, and sometimes the promise is made shortly after her birth. Forced marriage is a reality in the United States today.
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What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery. It involves controlling a person through
force, fraud, or coercion to exploit the victim for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or both.
Human trafficking strips victims of their freedom and it is a crime.
Who are the victims of Human Trafficking?
Poverty and lack of economic opportunity make women and children potential victims of
traffickers associated with international criminal organizations. They are vulnerable to false
promises of job opportunities in other countries. Many of those who accept these offers from
what appear to be legitimate sources find themselves in situations where their documents are destroyed, their selves or their families threatened with harm, or they are bonded by a debt that they have no chance of repaying.
Victims of human trafficking represent a range of backgrounds in terms of age, nationality, socioeconomic status, and education, but one characteristic that they usually share is some form of vulnerability. They are often isolated from their families and social networks. In some cases, victims are separated from their country of origin, native language, and culture.
Human trafficking is not limited to sexual exploitation. It also includes persons who are trafficked into 'forced' marriages or into bonded labor markets, such as sweat shops, agricultural plantations, or domestic service.
What Is the Profile of a Trafficking Victim?
Most trafficking victims will not readily volunteer information about
their status because of fear and abuse they have suffered at the hands
of their trafficker. However, there are indicators that often point to a
person held in a slavery condition.
Malnutrition, dehydration or poor personal hygiene
Sexually transmitted diseases
Signs of rape or sexual abuse
Bruising, broken bones, or other signs of untreated medical problems
Critical illnesses including diabetes, cancer or heart disease; and
Post-traumatic stress or psychological disorders.
If you know somebody in this situation you can call the 24-hr Trafficking
Emergency Hotline (619) 666-2757. The Trafficking Hotline is bilingual and
available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to assist victims, service providers,
and law enforcement.