Success Story – Stefanie
Stefanie* was born and raised in New York, and lived with her grandmother until she passed away when Stefanie was 13. Stefanie then moved in with her father, who had started a new family and lived in a nearby town. A few months later, Stefanie’s father moved their whole family to Saudi Arabia, where her step-mother’s family lived, and their treatment of Stefanie changed drastically.
While Stefanie was allowed to continue schooling, she was also expected to take care of her younger siblings, do most of the chores and cleaning around the house, and regularly not allowed to eat during family meals. Her father and step-mother also began making arrangements for her to be married. Although Stefanie was terrified by the idea of being married so young and being separated from her family, her father moved forward with finding potential husbands and began monitoring her at all times to ensure she did not reach out for help. While her father had a phone and computer, he did not let Stefanie use them, and she worried he would know if she emailed or called when he was out of the house.
Stefanie was finally able to get in touch with a cousin back in New York, and let her know that she was at risk of being forced into a marriage. Stefanie also told her cousin that she was being regularly beaten and abused by her father and mother, and that – based on conversations she overheard at home – she feared her father was making plans for her to marry a man in a distant village where it would be impossible for her get help or escape. Fearful of being raped by her potential husband, and facing increasing psychological and physical abuse, Stefanie was considering running away despite the risks of being caught by Saudi authorities and returned to her father.
After spending weeks looking for resources and finding no one that was able to help, Stefanie’s sister was connected with Tahirih’s Forced Marriage Initiative. From that moment on, Tahirih staff gave around the clock assistance, providing emotional and psychological support, safety planning, and securing pro bono family law representation. Guided by Tahirih advocates, Stefanie’s family in the U.S. was able to persuade her father to bring her back to New Jersey for a visit. Upon their arrival, family members, aided by the expert pro bono attorney and Tahirih staff, were able to make an emergency petition for custody and Stefanie was removed from her father’s care by law enforcement the very next day and has not returned to his custody since.
Soon after returning to the U.S. Stefanie went back to school and received supportive counseling. She is attending a magnet high school, excelling in her studies, and wants to pursue a career in dance. Stefanie hopes that her story will help other young girls know that they are not alone and that it will inspire them to believe in themselves and stand up for their rights.
*Names may have been changed to protect client privacy and safety. Photo may not depict actual client.