- August 4th, 2015
So, I’ve disappeared off of Livejournal for…over a year, I believe. It initially started as me adjusting to moving to 3 different countries in just as many months, and then starting college in one of those countries. I simply didn’t have the time. But then…something much more bizarre happened.
I’ve been a victim of forced marriage.
And the experience has opened my eyes to a lot of things that I never realised was…well, a thing. And I thought I should write about it, not just as an explanation for my disappearance and inactivity, but as a way to spread awareness. Because honestly, I never conceived that this was a thing that could happen to me…or, in fact, could happen at all in modern-day America.
For those that don’t know, I was born in China, but moved to Australia when I was very young and was raised in a very western culture. I knew my grandparents’ generation (more or less) all met and married with people their parents had arranged, and I knew it was a thing that happened in very conservative countries like the Middle East. But I never believed it could happen to me.
One of the people that helped me throughout this year was the Tahiri Justice Centre. They’re an organisation of pro bono lawyers based in America who specialises in Forced Marriage, and they’ve seen more than 3000 cases since their founding in 2006. And both they and the POLARIS Project were absolutely angels and quite literally lifesavers.
But it’s also startling the extent of the lack of infrastructure for people in situations like mine.
My family informed me that, to quote, “If everyone said yes, then the answer’s yes. If everyone says no, then it’s no.” They wouldn’t even accept me asking for a reason for them to reject my dates, because it was arrogant to ask. They’ve all had more life experience than me, so who am I to question them? It’s hubris to think that the whole family and all their friends are wrong, and I’m the only one that’s right.
And I understand that reads very much like your normal rhetoric for concerned parents worried about their teenagers dating. But the difference between that and forced marriage is that, in the end, you’re not the one with veto power. Even in arranged marriages in China, at least in the last century or so, the young people involved had veto power. They only met people through the matchmaker, but they could say no if they wanted.
My family made it clear that option wasn’t on the table for me. They would abduct me and fly me back to China and hold me there indefinitely if I resisted, and they could get away with it too. The Chinese government is infamously susceptible to bribes to look the other way, and there wasn’t a lot Australia could do for me once I’m inside China already.
And avoiding as much detail as possible, my family owns a private airplane. Much like cars, a private plane is…well, private property. Which means you can’t search it without a warrant. It would take them no time at all to knock me out and drag me on that plane, and no one would know any better. They don’t have to go through a commercial airport or the TSA.
So I fled.
I pretended I was going to school as normal, but once I got to my classes, I skipped out on them and went to the police station.
Whereupon the police told me to go home.
They said that since my parents hadn’t actually DONE anything yet, they couldn’t help me, but I was welcome to call them again once they actually go about abducting me! As it turns out, even a majority of women’s shelters don’t take in victims of threatened forced marriage. No one seemed to think it was a problem until after the deed was done. I had to seek refuge in Catholic Churches, apparently the only people willing to take me in, until I could contact the help I needed.
Thankfully, through the help of some absolutely amazing people, I managed to get in touch with the Tahiri Justice Centre and the POLARIS Project as mentioned above, and my case was taken seriously.
They arranged a meeting with sympathetic state troopers, and then arranged safehouses for me. From movies, I always thought safe houses were a sort of government funded thing, a little apartment they have set up with protection and stuff. Apparently, safe houses in real life are more like just the spare bedroom of a campaign staffer of someone, who doesn’t even know why you’re there.
I thought I would be nice and informed them of the situation, because they deserved to know what kind of trouble they were letting into their house. That spooked them, and they told me to get the fuck out.
Meanwhile, I was here in America on a student visa, and I had to leave my university to flee my family. So now I find myself without a legitimate status, so I was facing the very real danger of being deported.
It’s been an absolute nightmare.
And not the least is because of the psychological aspects of this whole mess.
My lawyer at the Tahiri Justice Centre sympathises that Forced Marriage cases are always exceedingly delicate. Unlike cases like, say, human trafficking (which is what POLARIS specialises in), often, your clients have very deep emotional bonds with the people hunting them. A victim of a human trafficking ring has no problem ratting out the ring leader once they know they’re going to be physically safe, and usually aren’t going to attempt to go back to that ring.
But the story is very different when your enemy are the people who raised you. And to be honest, I just can’t think of my parents as my enemies. I’m deeply, deeply disappointed that they don’t respect me enough to even give me a chance to find someone on my own. I’m hurt. But, beneath it all, I still can’t help but love them.
So even after everything, I still worry about them. I worry about my dad drinking too much. I worry about my baby little sister who won’t understand why I’m never coming back home. I worry about my grandmother, and if she’ll fight with my dad because she think he drove me away. I can’t sleep at night sometimes. Other times, I have nightmares not of my family catching me, but just all the things I wanted to say to them before I left, but didn't have the opportunity to. And I wake up crying.
And that’s why these cases get so messy. Often times, you don’t get protection unless you’re willing to prosecute. And while you’re hurt and upset at your parents, you still don’t honestly want to ruin their lives and see them in jail. 9 times out of 10, people end up returning to their family at the end of the day, which not only makes people unwilling to help them out (because why stick your neck out with someone if they’re just going to run back), but also creates more trouble when they find out their family hasn’t really changed at all.
But after a year, my life has finally settled down into a semblance of normality. I’m on the track to getting a permanent residency, which I can hopefully turn into citizenship. I’m learning to drive. I’m looking for a job. I still can’t go back to college, because as of right now, I’m an international student, and very few colleges offer financial aid for international students. But at least I’m not looking over my shoulder every time I go outside, or being worried every day I’ll be kicked out of the house I’m living in.
So……that’s what I’ve been up to. It feels like the longest year of my life. It’s been horrible at times, but it’s also how I met some of the most brilliant people I’ll probably ever know. I’m sorry I haven’t been keeping anyone up to date. I just didn’t have steady access to a laptop, and I didn’t want to drag any one into this whole mess that I didn’t have to.
And now that everything is returning to normal somewhat, I’ve found myself drifting back towards sporking as stress relief. So hopefully, I’ll be able to get a regular schedule going again.