Filmmaker Kate Ryan Brewer’s powerful documentary on forced marriage is such an eye-opener that will shock most people who view it. Like others, I had been too quick to assume that such marriages are something that only occurs in third-world countries. How very wrong I was. Her film is about the forced marriages that involved some 248K children between 2000 & 2010 in the United States. All of them were totally legal.
Kudos to Ryan Brewer in the way that she carefully selected 3 women that have gone through such marriages and survived, who articulated their experiences without even a hint of sensationalism. Like most other young girls in similar situations, they are been raised in extremely conservative religious homes. Whether it be an Orthodox Jewish or a Christian Patriarchy Movement family home, total power remained in the hands of the father figure.
These very young girls were manipulated into marrying grown men with no choice and destined to live as a cross between sex slaves and unpaid domestic servants. Their plight is made worse by the fact that usually their entire family and religious leaders insist on complying with the father’s demands.
This all sinks in slowly against a whole stream of facts that are so shocking that they seem totally unbelievable. When a child marries they enter almost a no-man’s land. Technically they are wives but as they are not recognized by the Law as adults, and so they have totally no resources to escape their marriages in any way. It doesn’t matter if they are subject to mental, physical or sexual abuse they are trapped. If an adult man is having sex with an unwilling bride that is nothing less than statutory rape.
Some 48 US States still allow some form of child marriage. 10 of them have NO minimum age at all. One of the interviewees is Fraidy Reiss who after years eventually found a way to escape her abusive husband. In 2011, she founded the non-profit organization Unchained At Last, to support women who wish to leave arranged and forced marriages.. But even her organization cannot help minors, although she is working to change the law.
However, any attempts to change these outdated laws meet with resistance from legislators because they do not perceive is as improving protections for children but more as an erosion of parental control. Virginia lawmakers managed to change the law and raise the age limit and also insisted that any young bride is automatically emancipated.
New Jersey passed a similar law but naturally, Gov Christie vetoed it and so iy died in the water,
The 3 women in the film eventually freed themselves after enormous struggles and its safe to say that they are now destined to happy ever- after-lives. This documentary however makes us think about the hundreds of thousands of girls/women who will remain unhappily shackled for the rest of their lives., until we all help bring about change