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With spring in full bloom across the country, we know that wedding season is near.

And while this can be a thrilling time to celebrate life’s precious moments with their family and friends, for some, the return of the wedding season can be tied to the trauma of sexual assault and serve as a trigger for individuals who have been forced to marry.

A forced marriage takes place without the full and free consent of one, or both parties. The same fundamental dynamic underlies both forced marriage and sexual assault – lack of consent.

Unfortunately, sexual assault and rape can sometimes lead to a forced marriage. The family or community of someone who experiences sexual abuse or rape may believe that marriage is the only way to preserve the reputation of the survivor, the perpetrator, or the family as a whole.

In addition, sexual assault and forced marriage often intersect with other coercive abusive tactics. At times, forced marriage is pursued by families who wrongfully want to “correct” or “mask” an individual who identifies as LGBTQIA, or when the individual’s age or legal status as a minor or immigrant are used against them as a tool to exert power and control.

Forced marriage can happen to anyone, so it’s important to be aware of the warning signs. For example, someone might be experiencing a forced marriage if:

  • They have siblings or other family members who experienced early marriage or forced marriage.
  • They have unreasonable restrictions from their parents, such as being placed on “house arrest” or not being allowed to speak with others without supervision.
  • They are always accompanied by family members to personal appointments and are never left alone with a provider.
  • They fear upcoming holidays or breaks, or lack confidence that they will return to school or work afterward.
  • They have frequent, persistent, unexplained absences.
  • They withdraw from school or quit their job suddenly, especially if they were pressured by their family to do so.

Family, friends, and community leaders can be powerful allies in preventing harm, teachers, doctors, and social workers may be among the first to identify the need for help and support individuals in finding services.

April has been Sexual Assault Awareness month, a very important annual campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault and discover ways that it can be prevented.

As our communities begin to congregate this season and beyond, keep the link between forced marriage and sexual assault in mind. We can all keep an eye out for the warning signs of forced marriage and play a role in preventing harm.

Visit preventforcedmarriage.org/get-help to contact us if you or someone you know is being forced, coerced, or manipulated into marriage.