It happens here, in the United States. In your state. In your town. It happened to me; I was forced into marriage.
My name is Nina, and I grew up in Michigan in a fundamentalist Christian community. My family and community believe that women are supposed to be subservient to men. Girls are raised to be wives and mothers and do what their fathers and husbands tell them to do. I was taught from a young age that I had no freedom to make choices in my own life outside of this box.
Throughout my life, my father was controlling and psychologically abusive. He maintained strict control over my every movement, and eventually decided that I would marry a man of his choosing with or without my consent. When I was 19, I was forced to marry a man I barely knew. His family and my father had made up their minds, and what I wanted did not matter and I knew that the consequences for refusing would mean rejection by my family and community. I was young, isolated, and I could not see a way out, so I went through with the marriage.
My husband was controlling and abusive.
Any time I tried to speak up about the situation in my home I was told that I simply needed to submit more to him and that it was my responsibility to make the marriage work. I felt trapped.
As a result of the ongoing domestic violence I become deeply depressed. Eventually things got so bad that I was sent to a counselor. This person turned out to be my savior. She helped me realize that everything I’d been experiencing and had been conditioned to think was okay was actually abuse. That was when my eyes were open to the fact that I’d been forced into marriage.
I knew I couldn’t let my kids grow up the way I did.
Finally, I worked up the strength and courage to leave my husband and file to annul my marriage. When I began the process, it was daunting, especially since forced marriage in the United States is not very widely understood. But Tahirih Justice Center has been an invaluable resource to me throughout my trial. It took two years of legal battling to accomplish but this past August my forced marriage was annulled. Not only did this grant me the validation that my forced marriage was illegal, it also paves the way for other women in Michigan to file for annulments of their forced marriages more easily.
I believe wholeheartedly that everyone deserves the right to decide whether, when, and whom to marry,which is why I will continue to raise my voice against the injustice of forced marriage. I want other women and girls facing similar situations to know that they are not alone, and that there is help.
I want my daughters to grow up knowing that their dreams and choices have value. That they have value. We all do.
Today, I am happily working in human resources for a large company and raising my three children with the support of a new family of other survivors and friends: a family I chose.