Are forced marriages really a problem in modern America? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes. It isn't known exactly how many young women and girls are actually forced into marriages with mostly older men by their families, because the issues is shrouded in secrecy.
It's in the news again due to reports that a young Texan girl has been hiding from her family after they physically abused her when she refused to marry a man who had promised her family $20,000. Even though there are supposed to be minimum age requirements for marriage that vary by state, parents can skirt the law by either signing a waiver or taking the girls to another state or country that's more accommodating for the wedding.
It's important to understand that a forced marriage isn't the same as an arranged marriage. Arranged marriages are used routinely by some cultures that view every union as a larger family matter. In arranged marriages, however, the bride and groom both willingly consent to the match and can walk away if they want.
Girls forced into marriage while they're underage face a host of legal issues that they need help addressing. Aside from the familial pressure to comply with their parents' wishes, they can be charged as runaways if they leave home. If they wait until they are already married to get help, they often need help to either get the marriage annulled or get a divorce.
Even adult women can face significant complications if they finally try to leave a forced marriage. Many have been prevented from participating in the workforce, which means they may not have the skills to immediately support themselves.
If they already have children when they try to leave their husbands, they need help fighting for custody, child support and spousal support in order to start over. They may also have significant concerns about their safety once they leave, which may require restraining orders to adequately address.
No one should have to remain in a marriage if they aren't happy. If you're in a forced marriage, you don't have to fight your way out alone. There is help available for you.