United States: Tahirih Releases Report on Forced Marriage in US
Friday, September 23, 2011 11:25 AM

The Tahirih Justice Center has released a report on its 2011 national survey on forced marriages in the United States. Tahirih had previously encountered anecdotal evidence of force marriages occurring in the United States, and the survey confirmed that it is a widespread issue. The Survey on Forced Marriage in Immigrant Communities in the United States defined “forced marriage” as a marriage “that takes place without the full and free consent of one or both parties.” It ran from May 11, 2011 through August 5, 2011 and received over 500 responses from 47 states. A number of service providers responded, including law enforcement, legal service providers, medical and mental health care professionals, religious services and outreach, and community services and outreach. The survey respondents approximated that they had encountered 3,000 cases in the last two years, and while the vast majority of victims were female, a few males were also reported.

The immigrant populations included 56 different countries and a variety of faiths: Muslim, Christianity, Hindu, Buddhism, and others. The most common forces exerted were emotional blackmail and isolation, but 46% of respondents reported that actual physical violence was used. Other tactics included: economic threats, threats of physical violence, immigration-related threats, deception, stalking, and kidnapping. Threatening loved ones of the victim to ensure compliance was another common problem, especially in cases involving minors:

  • A younger sister may be forced to marry if the elder sister refuses,
  • A younger sister may be married at a younger age so that the family avoids similar problems in the future,
  • The "honor and respectability" of the women of the family may be negatively impacted by the refusal, and
  • Physical violence against other women in the family is threatened in response to a refusal. 

In addition to gauging the incidence of forced marriage in the United States, Tahirih also wanted to learn if service providers were able to identify and provide assistance to victims of forced marriage. Most respondents knew of forced marriage, but only one in ten worked for agencies that provided staff with working definitions. Only 22% of respondents worked for agencies with screening and referral procedures for identification and aiding victims, and some respondents stated that their work environments did not encourage questioning cultures or family hierarchies, making identification of victims even more difficult.

The majority of respondents were interested in attaining practical tools and providing resources for victims of forced marriage, but only 16% of respondents said that their agency was able to provide such resources. Situations involving minors, while highly reported, were even more problematic for those attempting to provide help since most shelters will not admit minors, parents may threaten to sue agencies that aid minors for state crimes (e.g. interference with custodial rights), and Child Protective Services may be equally ill-equipped to handle forced marriage.

The report concludes by listing the actions Tahirih intends to take:

  • Follow up reported cases in one-on-one interviews with survey respondents;
  • Conduct further interviews with focus groups likely to come in to contact with victims (e.g. secondary school and college teachers);
  • Conduct one-on-one interviews with survivors to gain their perspective on useful and harmful tactics;
  • Conduct awareness raising and outreach;
  • Develop and advocate for new legislation and policies; and
  • Establish a national network of professionals and service providers to aid one another in identifying and aiding victims, as well as coordinating public education and outreach.


 Compiled from: Tahirih Justice Center, Forced Marriage in Immigrant Communities in the United States (23 September 2011).