Two years ago, after surviving alcoholism, depression and several suicide attempts, Vidya Sri escaped the forced marriage that almost cost her her life.
Realizing that no help was available for forced marriage victims in the U.S., she decided to take matters into her own hands and start an organization to rescue other women trapped in the same situation.
Through her support organization GangaShakti, Sri, 43 of Queens, helps women from various cultures escape.
Sri insists that, despite our tendencies towards political correctness, we should not mistake forced marriage for a cultural practice.
“Telling your daughter that she may be raped is not cultural,” she said.
The U.K. has been a pioneer in recognizing the issue of forced marriage, and created a governmental forced marriage hotline and unit. Since June, forced marriage is a crime there. But not here.
“The U.K. could get more traction on this issue because it’s a smaller country,” Sri said. “As a nation we don’t even have a working definition, that’s how behind we are. The Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice does not recognize forced marriage even as something that happens in the context of domestic violence.”
Today, many American girls in the U.S. are forced into marriage. But hidden under cases of so called “honor killing”, domestic violence, culture and religion, the issue of forced marriage is rarely discussed.