Reporting an Arranged Marriage to Human Trafficking
Trafficking involves either a citizen or undocumented person, which means that domestic trafficking is a federal crime. The victim is trafficked involuntarily, and the crime committed against the person is exploitation. The markers are:
- Physical violence or threat of violence
- Imprisonment, confinement, or kept under guard
- Branding, scarring, tattooing to indicate ownership
- Required to do work that is different than what was originally described
- Victim was lied to about any aspect of travel, employment, living conditions, or treatment
- Threatening deportation
- Imposing debt (debt bondage)
- Withholding documents and/or money
- Threatening victim’s family/friends or other victims
When I filed my report with Polaris, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, I told them the following story to connect each bullet point:
Force: I was confined to 15 years of non-secular biblical studies against my wishes and was not allowed to read or speak English, even though I was an American citizen living in New York city. I was forced into my marriage when I was 18. I was not given the option and a wedding date was set for me. I cried and begged but the wedding took place anyway. For the week before the wedding, the bride (and groom) are kept under guard 24/7 to make sure they don’t run away or kill themselves. The morning after the wedding, both mothers-in-law came into the bathroom and shaved my head. I cried but they wouldn’t stop. They gave me an appeasement present, a piece of jewelry, and told me I am a holy woman now (branding, violence).
Fraud: The religious marriage contract stated that my husband would care for me and provide for my food, clothing, shelter, and pleasure. However, as soon as we were married, I was told that a good wife arranges everything for her husband to study the sacred texts. Therefore, in addition to tending to his meals and laundry and housekeeping, I also had to earn the income for the household while having a baby every year. The ‘job’ was a minimum wage teaching position within the community. Once you are locked in, you pay into the system by way of an internal economy. Now, you earn a running tab at the grocery store, the butcher, the fish shoppe, and the bakery, all through the congregations account. Money never exchanges hands. The wife’s responsibility is to apply for social services as an added ‘income’ and make sure the government benefits are up to date and received to the fullest each month.
Coercion: When I complained to the community leaders that this marriage was a terrible idea, I was told that we should move to another community and start over, and if that won’t work out, then we should move to another country. When I asked for a divorce, I was told that a rabbinical tribunal must be held, and I had to pay for it, up to $250,000. Since I couldn’t pay for it, no tribunal was held to “decide who is at fault”, and I was given a divorce without a tribunal, which meant that I lost access to my children, my home, my clothing, and all my possessions. I had to go to court to obtain my passport, which was still inside the house. When I went to the secular courts, my family was threatened that their children would be thrown out of the schools if they are in contact with me, so I remained homeless for many months without any shelter.
Please make sure that this is not a case for the Department of Justice, since the insular community is fundamentalist in nature and employs mafia-like tactics for staying under the radar, making sure not to get caught. Their crimes are impossible to prosecute, yet meet every criteria of human trafficking. Repeat this over and over again. Also, explain how you have reached out to law enforcement, and when they saw your costume, they may have said “take it up with your rabbis”. The same happens in Utah, where police will not enter a polygamist compound, or in Amish country.
To make a report, please call Polaris at 1-888-373-7888 https://polarisproject.org/national-human-trafficking-hotline
You may also call the Tahirih Justice Center, a non-Jewish organization that helps with forced marriages, amongst other issues. http://www.tahirih.org/ (Hours 9-5, in California, Washington D.C., Houston)
For guidance and counseling, call The Hope Line - 1-877-235-4525 or 1-800-273-8255 https://www.thehopeline.com/
Please reply if you have any questions.