The problem of forced marriage remains little known and well hidden in the United States, but experts say it is growing, particularly, but not only, in immigrant communities.
Data is just beginning to be collected on the scope of forced marriage in the U.S. In 2011, the Tahirih Justice Center in suburban Washington, DC conducted what is believed to be the first national survey on the issue. It received responses from over 500 agencies working with various immigrant, ethnic and religious communities in 47 states and the territory of Guam.
The results of the Survey on Forced Marriage in Immigrant Communities in the United States indicated that at least 3,000 known and suspected cases of forced marriage had occurred in the previous two years. Many experts believe the number is much higher due to under-reporting.
The marriages involved people from 56 countries, of various faiths and all ages, though most were female and many were below the age of 18.
“Our survey was the first to dig under the hood of this issue,” Heather Heiman, Tahirih Senior Public Policy Attorney, told TrustLaw. “The survey really brought home that while organisations were aware of the issue, most don't have the ability to define forced marriage and they don't know what to do.”
“What we also heard over and over again was that victims of forced marriage are reluctant to come forward. They're afraid for themselves. They're afraid for their families. They don't know what kind of services they can access and they don't know what kind of repercussions (they might face).”
Here are more facts and figures from the survey on forced marriage in the United States:
Definition: How Tahirih distinguishes between arranged and forced marriage: “An arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage. A forced marriage, in which an individual feels she has no ultimate right to choose her partner and/or no meaningful way to say no to the marriage, is distinguishable from an arranged marriage, in which the families of both parties (or religious leaders or others) take the lead, but ultimately, the choice remains with the individual. “
There is no federal law in the United States against forced marriage and only nine states and territories have laws criminalising the practice: California, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Virginia and the Virgin Islands.
No forced marriage prosecutions have ever been brought under these laws against a parent or other participant, according to Tahirih research
67 percent of respondents felt there were cases of forced marriage not being identified in the communities with which they worked, suggesting a significant number of “hidden victims.”
Less than 25 percent of respondents said their agency's screening process enabled them to identify cases of forced marriage.
Less than 10 percent of respondents said they had a working definition of forced marriage at their agency.
Less than 20 percent of respondents said their agency was properly equipped to help individuals facing forced marriage.