From a very young age, I witnessed and experienced violence in my home country of Niger.
My father beat my mother, one of his four wives, sometimes so badly that she could not speak or eat for weeks. At age 15, my family began pressuring me to undergo female genital mutilation, but after seeing what my sister had gone through – the razor, the blood, the pain – I didn’t want it. Because of my refusal, my family took away meals as punishment, and they cut me anyway.
At age 17, I was forced into marriage with a 52 year old man. I cried on my wedding day, and that night began years of rape and beating that broke my body and my soul.
After a beating that sent me to the clinic for stitches, I went to the police, but they had been paid by my husband to ignore my plea for help. I knew then that I had to escape.
At the age of 19, I fled first to Togo, but my husband had family there, so I traveled to the United States in hope of finding safety. However, I just found more violence, as strangers who had initially offered me help, forced me to cook and clean and forced sex on me.
I didn’t speak any English. I didn’t have any friends or family nearby, and was not allowed to have visitors at the home where I was staying. And because of my past experience with police, I didn’t think I could call them for help.
I did not know at the time what human trafficking was, but I knew what I felt – being treated like a slave was wrong. I experienced persistent panic attacks, and when it got to the point where I had to be hospitalized, the woman I worked for told me not to come back.
I realized that without legal status, I would never have control of my life and would always be under the threat of deportation. I knew I had to seek real help. That is when I found Tahirih.
In December of 2012, eight years after I first arrived in the U.S., my Tahirih attorney, Lindsay, helped me file my asylum application. My case was initially denied because I had not filed it within a year of coming to the U.S., but Lindsay kept pushing with the asylum office, and eventually they agreed to interview me again. Finally, my application was approved in June 2014. Then, Lindsay pushed again, this time for my green card so I could work, and with the help of Senator Cardin’s office, my green card was approved in December 2017.
After decades of seeking justice, I was finally free.