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This article was originally published on April 28, 2011.

Tahirih is launching a first-of-its-kind national survey this spring to ascertain the nature and scope of this emerging problem of forced marriage in immigrant communities in the United States. The survey will complement other Tahirih research and policy activities intended to better understand the complex dynamics of such forced marriage cases, identify key stakeholders, develop a collaborative national support network to assist individuals facing forced marriage, and outline critically-needed policy responses.

The United States has just begun to take notice of the problem of forced marriage domestically; however, there is very little shared understanding among non-profits and government agencies of the problem’s full dimensions, nor any coordinated effort to envision strategies and solutions.

By contrast, the United Kingdom and a few other countries have recognized and are addressing the problem of forced marriage through major new laws, policies, and community outreach. The national prevalence of reported forced marriage cases in the United Kingdom was estimated in a 2009 report to be as high as 8,000, a figure that does not even include a potentially large number of “hidden” victims who have not yet come to the attention of the authorities or non-profit service providers.

Given similar immigration patterns and sheer geography, the problem of forced marriage could be of similar or even greater magnitude in the United States—yet no helpline exists here, no federal government office stands at the ready to assist, and no concerted national response of any kind is in place, leaving young women with few places to turn for help.

Tahirih’s new Forced Marriage Initiative aims, ultimately, to help reduce the incidence of forced marriage in immigrant communities in the United States; increase the willingness and ability of those at risk to seek help; and build a network of service providers and government agencies with the knowledge and tools to provide meaningful assistance to those facing forced marriage.

Tahirih’s forced marriage survey has been prepared in close consultation with sociologists from the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center and with community, faith-based, and other advocacy organizations with relevant expertise. The survey will run from the beginning of May to the end of June 2011, and will be broadly distributed to service providers, advocates, community leaders, educators, health professionals, law enforcement officers, and others nationwide who may have vital information about cases of forced marriage in the United States.