As advocates working to end forced marriage in the United States, we are very familiar with the many misconceptions about the issue. Many people mistakenly believe forced marriage doesn’t happen in the U.S. or if it does then it must be limited to just “some communities.” Many people also wrongly assume that forced marriage is rooted in “foreign traditions” or claim it’s a “cultural practice” featured only in specific religious or ethnic groups. Even among other anti-violence advocates, forced marriage remains under-recognized and poorly understood.
The truth is, like all forms of gender-based violence, forced marriage is rooted in patriarchal values present in cultures across the globe, including the United States. We serve clients from a vast array of religious and secular backgrounds, clients from wealthy families and those living in poverty, and clients of every race and ethnicity. This includes clients from White, middle-class, multigenerational American families that many think are the exception when we say “forced marriage impacts everyone.” It also survivors with marginalized identities, who face increased vulnerability and barriers to accessing supportive services.
The broad impact of forced marriage has fostered a widespread response from within all communities. Tahirih’s Forced Marriage Initiative works alongside committed advocates and survivors from all backgrounds who together are striving to end forced marriage. Many of whom have joined together in a National Forced Marriage Working Group. Together we share best practices for serving clients, collaborate to raise awareness within the mainstream movement to end gender-based violence, and advance public policy to end forced marriage.
A recent event hosted by the New York City Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence highlights the importance and the impact of collaboration within the Forced Marriage Working Group. The FMI’s Project Associate, Hellitz Villegas, joined other Working Group members, Shyda Rashid from Sakhi for South Asian Women and Bushra Husain from Sanctuary for Families, to speak about forced and child marriage in the U.S. You can watch the event here to learn more about the impact of forced marriage on all communities, and the diverse advocates working to end forced marriage.