Norma was only 15 years old when she was abducted, raped, and forced into marriage by a violent older man who threatened to kill her family if she refused. At 20 years old, while pregnant with their child, Norma was hospitalized after a particularly brutal beating; the baby barely survived. Norma’s father convinced her to go into hiding and hired a private attorney to file for divorce, in secret, on her behalf. They knew it was only a matter of time before her ex-husband found out. Fearing for her life, Norma fled to California.
Now free from her ex-husband, Norma began a life in the United States. Years later, she fell in love with John*, a U.S. citizen who was smart, fun-loving, and handsome. After living together as a family for 3 happy years, John began drinking heavily and staying out all night. Norma was stunned and heartbroken when he admitted to cheating on her. John begged for Norma’s forgiveness and swore he would change.
With promises of a business they could own together, a bigger house, better schools for the children, and a renewed sense of commitment, John convinced Norma to move to Houston. They bought a house with their shared savings, and John finally proposed marriage.
It didn’t take long after getting married for John to start drinking again. This time, he started beating and raping Norma. As a method of control and humiliation, he would lock Norma outside or force her to sleep on the floor of the home they owned together. He became increasingly emotionally abusive, blaming Norma’s performance as a wife and a mother for the physical and emotional pain he inflicted.
When she finally built up the courage to leave, John used Norma and her children’s undocumented status to exploit, intimidate, and threaten her. He promised to have them deported if they called the police, and he destroyed Norma’s personal documents to prevent her from filing for immigration relief on her own. He removed her name from their shared bank accounts, canceled her credit card, and eventually forged her signature on a document transferring full ownership of their house to his name. John showed Norma that he could take everything from her, and made her fear reaching out for help as much as she feared him. Norma’s voice got smaller and smaller.
Just when Norma started to give up, a member of her congregation noticed that she needed help, and offered her a place to stay for nothing in return. She connected Norma to a domestic violence support group at the Houston Area Women’s Center, where she was referred to Tahirih. Norma’s neighbor lifted her up, community resources connected her to a path forward, and Tahirih helped her access protection under U.S. law.
Her own perseverance and the support of her community helped Norma find her voice again, stronger than ever. Now, Norma gives back to her community by joining the fight to end violence against women. She tells her story to domestic violence survivors, church groups, radio shows, and in women’s prisons as evidence that fear can be overcome, survivors are never alone, and there is always a path forward.
Tahirih will celebrate Norma as the 2017 Courageous Voice Honoree at the 6th Annual Houston Gala on Saturday, October 14, 2017 at Hotel ZaZa.
The gala pays tribute to the incredible courage of Tahirih clients, and renews the commitment to end the epidemic of violence against women and girls, to which no community is immune. Each year, a Courageous Voice Honoree is named to represent the heroic women and girls Tahirih serves.