Trigger warning: rape, forced marriage, and abuse
My mum had always made it clear I’d be getting married young.
I didn’t realize how young until I was raped.
After going through a horrific ordeal at the age of 12 in Saudi Arabia, my brother went to find the person who had taken away my innocence, so to speak. Both my mum and brother decided I must marry the person who had ‘taken my virginity’ as they put it. I prayed so hard that he wouldn’t be found, I didn’t want to marry someone who had caused me so much harm.
I let out a sigh of relief when my brother came back with no news, much to my mum’s disappointment. What did they expect? That a rapist would admit to what he had done?
When I returned to London after completing my Umrah, I found myself being blackmailed out of family honor to travel to Pakistan, my motherland, to marry a complete stranger. No matter how much I pleaded and begged, I was told I can either comply or I’ll be forced to marry him. I was physically beaten until I said yes. Luckily, this fell through when my potential school in Pakistan needed a current school report from my school in London. My family did not want my school involved or it would have resulted in trouble for themselves.
I was told to keep quiet and never mention it again.
It never really stopped: the taunts, the blackmail, and the beatings.
At 15, I found myself crying as the Imam read the Nikkah over the phone, again to someone I had never met. I was only ever shown a photo, given a name and an age. I was not given an option. I was told I had to marry him, my mum told me of her disappointment in me for not being a virgin, for ‘allowing’ someone to assault me.
She told me I only had myself to blame for my rape, and that I had to marry this stranger in order to make things right.
This fell through when my ‘husband’ couldn’t enter the UK; our marriage was not valid as I was underage. To this day, I have not met the man I married. I don’t even know if it really was him in the photo.
I still carried on pursuing an education, much to my family’s dismay, “You should be at home learning how to be a good wife – or better yet, actually be a wife,” my mother would say.
One evening, after I had just returned from university, my mum came into my room. “You have a proposal. Your potential suitor will be coming at 6 o’clock,” she said.
Again, I pleaded and said I didn’t want to get married.
My family chose to ignore my pleas. When I met him, I thought the man in front of me was the groom’s father, but I soon realized sitting in front of me was, in fact, my husband-to-be. With graying hair and wrinkles beneath his large glasses, he was definitely not my age.
My brother immediately agreed to his proposal. Before I could even say a word, my mum glared at me.
I found myself again being forced to marry someone over twice my age. He had grown children, similar in age to myself.
After he left, my mom came to my room, at first crying and pleading with me.
This turned into anger when I kept saying no. I was told that I was not compromising, my future husband was. I wasn’t a virgin as I was raped, I was ‘divorced’, although she didn’t tell anyone about the previous marriage and I had never met him. I didn’t have a fair skin tone, I was short and chubby, I was completely undesirable according to my mum’s standards. I was blackmailed emotionally and told if I married him I could financially support my siblings, particularly my brother.
I would be making my mum happy, and it was my duty to please my mum.
Regardless of what I said, the wedding was set, and the restaurant was booked.
With no money to my name and nowhere to go, I needed an exit plan. I ended up hastily marrying a friend of mine. I was absolutely terrified of the consequences. My family was angry, and his family was upset too.
Our families showed face for the sake of the community, and attended a wedding party.
I am now in a position where I can focus on myself and my well-being. I work as a senior lead teacher and I am taking steps towards completing my Masters.
Sadly, many others around the world are also subjected to forced marriage. It’s not okay to be physically or mentally abused into marrying someone, particularly for the sake of honor. You can choose to marry who you want, if you choose to get married at all. There is no honor in honor-based crimes. If you are going through something similar, or know someone who is, there is a way out.
Tell somebody – there is always someone willing to help.