Special Feature | Australia: How My Life Has Changed
Safety. Support. Companionship.
These three provisions have radically changed Anisaa’s life since she took the decision to divulge a highly distressing situation to her school teacher three years ago.
Anisaa’s parents had planned to send her overseas to marry a stranger against her will.
As the overseas trip became imminent, Anisaa gathered the courage to disclose this to her teacher, knowing it was a decision that would cost her dearly, but conscious the alternative would cost her much more.
Anisaa was fortunate enough to attend a school that had embedded education on Human Trafficking, Modern Slavery and Slavery-like Practices into the curriculum. The contemporary issue of forced marriage had been addressed with the school staff by the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH) via a series of professional learning sessions the year before.
The school subsequently incorporated a unit on Forced Marriage into its Year 10 Humanities curriculum as well as numerous prevention and protection strategies into its Student Well-being and Safety Protocol.
When Anisaa divulged her situation to her Year 10 Humanities teacher, her teacher was able to explain the intervention steps required, and the ways the school would assist in preventing the impending marriage.
…a wise woman refuses
to be anyone’s victim.”
– Maya Angelou
Through the involvement of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Child Protection Authorities, Anisaa was protected from the marriage. Anisaa’s parents received a clear message from the AFP that in Australia forced marriage is illegal. There are lengthy custodial sentences for anyone causing or forcing another person to be married against their will. The AFP were able to successfully use disruption strategies to halt the proceedings.
Anisaa was provided with support for her physical and mental health through the Australian Red Cross, was placed on an Airport Watch List and frequent unannounced home visits were made by the AFP to check on her welfare. She was offered safe, culturally appropriate accommodation services, albeit in refuge settings, at the times she needed to be out of her family home and assigned a case worker from the Red Cross.
The Red Cross referred Anisaa to ACRATH for companionship which provided a chance for her to walk the journey of recovery with a volunteer companion. There are many challenges yet to be faced by Anisaa, but she is no longer alone.
Anisaa is slowly beginning to re-build a relationship with her parents; there are still issues of trust and abandonment, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Even if this relationship is never fully restored, Anisaa believes that she will now be able to cope with the periods of estrangement.
Safety. Support. Companionship. These are powerful services in the journey of recovery for someone who has had to face the complexity of a forced marriage. Anisaa can now move forward with her life due to the help and support of her school community.
* To protect the identity, privacy and safety of the girls and young women on whose lives this story has been written, the name Anisaa has been used and the image accessed.