Forced Marriage Initiative Staff
Hellitz Villegas – Forced Marriage Initiative Project Manager
Hellitz Villegas is a compassionate advocate committed to centering the survivor experience, understanding the importance of providing holistic and culturally competent options. Hellitz spent several years working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence in crisis, court, and therapeutic settings. In 2018, she joined the Forced Marriage Initiative at the Tahirih Justice Center providing direct services to individuals in the U.S. facing or fleeing forced marriages. Hellitz now manages the Forced Marriage Initiative. She spends most of her time responding to technical assistance requests and working with other service providers to ensure the needs of survivors of forced marriage are appropriately met. To raise awareness on the issue of forced marriage in the United States, Hellitz engages in extensive training and outreach nationally.
Sahra Agahi – Forced Marriage Initiative Project Associate
Sahra joined the Tahirih Justice Center in August of 2019 and later moved into her role as the Forced Marriage Initiative Project Associate in June 2022. In her role she provides direct services to individuals in the U.S. facing or fleeing forced marriage, responds to technical assistance nationwide, conducts education and outreach, develops national resources, and supports the improvement of public and governmental responses to forced marriage.
Sahra comes to the Forced Marriage Initiative with experience in the refugee and social advocacy setting working with survivors of gender-based violence around the world. Prior to joining Tahirih, Sahra served in the Women’s Empowerment department at the Alameda County Family Justice Center in Oakland, California supporting a trauma-informed program centered on empowering survivors of gender-based violence throughout the country. While at the ACJFC, Sahra earned her certificate as a Domestic Violence Counselor.
Other staff at the Tahirih Justice Center who contribute to the Forced Marriage Initiative
Casey Swegman – Director of Public Policy
Casey Swegman is a nationally recognized expert on the issue of forced marriage in the United States. Now Tahirih’s Director of Public Policy, Casey formerly served as the Forced Marriage Initiative’s Project Associate and then Project Manager. She was the principle content drafter and developer of the Forced Marriage Initiative website, and she engages in extensive domestic and international outreach and training on this issue. Casey spearheaded a six city nationwide awareness raising tour to promote understanding of the issue of forced marriage in the United States and train service providers in best practices for responding to cases of forced marriage. Casey now leads Tahirih’s Public Policy team in advocating for systemic change that empowers survivors.
Alex Goyette – Senior Public Policy Associate
Alex is the Tahirih Justice Center’s Senior Public Policy Associate. In his role he tracks, advocates for, and reports on minimum age of marriage legislation introduced in state legislature across the country, provides technical assistance to legislators and advocates advancing legislation to limit or end child marriage, and engages in education and outreach to groups across the United States looking to learn more about forced and child marriage. Alex also manages the Forced Marriage Initiative’s external communications, monitoring and responding to breaking news and new research in the field, maintaining preventforcedmarriage.org, and distributing the FMI’s bimonthly newsletter.
Maricarmen Garza – Chief of Programs
As Tahirih’s Chief of Programs, Maricarmen supports the Forced Marriage Initiative by providing legal technical assistance for those the program serves. Prior to joining Tahirih she worked at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid for 21 years, managing the Legal Alliance for Survivors of Abuse, a unique collaboration between TRLA and domestic violence and sexual assault programs in 68 Texas counties. Through the LASA Project, Maricarmen ensured that clients received holistic, trauma-informed, and victim centered legal and social services critical to breaking the cycle of violence.