Forced Marriage Initiative
Over the last several years, Tahirih has been alerted to an increasing number of forced marriage cases involving young women and girls from traditional immigrant communities in the United States. Some of these young women and their parents are US citizens; others are legal permanent residents, refugees, asylees, or have other immigration statuses.
In the summer of 2011, the Tahirih Justice Center conducted a first-ever National Survey on Forced Marriage in Immigrant Communities in the United States. Please scroll down for a summary of the survey results or click here to read the full report on the 2011 National Survey Results (PDF).
2011 Tahirih Justice Center National Forced Marriage Survey [PDF]
US Department of State Forced Marriage Prevention
The Right to Choose: Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance for Dealing with Forced Marriage (UK) [PDF]
Criminal Laws Addressing Forced Marriage in the United States [PDF]
The reasons behind these forced marriages are complex and varied, particularly in an American context. Parents may regard a forced marriage as a way to prevent their daughter from becoming too Americanized, protect the family’s honor, or gain economic security. Whatever the rationale, the result may subject the woman or girl to severe and sustained harm, including domestic abuse, marital rape, and other forms of violence.
Although the United Kingdom and a few other countries have begun to recognize and address the issue of forced marriage with new laws and policies, little has been done to assist individuals facing forced marriage the United States, leaving young women (and some men) in crisis with few resources and options.
Tahirih’s Forced Marriage Initiative was formally launched in 2011 after years of groundwork in researching the issue and tracking and responding to cases. The initiative aims to develop a national response to the problem of forced marriage in immigrant communities in the United States that will enable women and girls to safely resist or escape forced marriages.
The Tahirih Justice Center invites you to sign up for the National Network to Prevent Forced Marriage, as well as the quarterly Forced Marriage Newsletter which provides information on trainings, events, policy developments, and other news related to forced marriage in the United States.
One morning Tahirih received a call from a family attorney in another state who was struggling to help a girl in acute crisis. This teenage girl—a US citizen whose South Asian-born parents threatened to beat her into submitting to a forced marriage—had taken the courageous step of running away to a domestic violence shelter. The shelter gave her temporary refuge, but was unsure how long they could keep her there—particularly as her parents were threatening to sue the shelter, her attorney, and anyone else who tried to help her. In the end, the girl was returned to her parents after Child Protective Services declined to get involved in such “cultural issues,” and Tahirih does not know what ultimately happened to her.
Situations like these—involving a young woman who is scared, threatened, and unsure where to go for help, and local service providers who are struggling to assist her—have become all too familiar to the Tahirih Justice Center. It was after hearing about the above case (and many similar stories) that Tahirih launched the Forced Marriage Initiative.
National Survey on Forced Marriage
In the summer of 2011, Tahirih conducted a Survey on Forced Marriage in Immigrant Communities in the United States. This survey was prepared in close consultation with research experts and community-based/advocacy organizations with relevant expertise, and distributed to thousands of recipients (including service providers, advocates, community leaders, educators, law enforcement officers, and other professionals) around the country.
Over 500 respondents from 47 states participated in the survey, providing valuable information about challenges service providers are encountering as they try to identify and assist individuals facing forced marriage situations, barriers to victims seeking help, and the complex dynamics involved in these forced marriage cases. Some key findings include:
- Tahirih’s survey confirms that forced marriage is a problem in the United States today, with as many as 3,000 known and suspected cases identified by survey respondents in just the last two years.
- Forced marriage is being seen in immigrant communities from 56 different countries, and affects people of many different faiths.
- Two out of three respondents (67%) felt that there were cases of forced marriage not being identified in the populations with which they work—this finding suggests a significant population of “hidden victims” beyond the potentially 3000 cases identified through Tahirih’s survey.
- 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 may 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.
Tahirih is honored to collaborate with a wide range of organizations and individuals as we work to protect young women in the United States facing forced marriages, including:
- Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center
- Arab American Family Support Center
- Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
- FAIR Fund
- Free the Slaves
- Ganga Shakti
- Global Justice Initiative
- Karma Nirvana
- Manavi Inc.
- Peaceful Families Project
- Sauti Yetu Center for African Women
- Vital Voices
Research Experts that have advised Tahirih on the Forced Marriage Initiative include:
- Laudan Y. Aron (Senior Program Officer), National Academy of Sciences
- Meredith Dank and Colleen Owens (Research Associates), Urban Institute – Justice Policy Center