Nina Van Harn, forced marriage survivor and the winner of the first case of forced marriage annulment in the state of Michigan, spoke at Stanford University about the social, economic, and religious factors behind forced marriage in America, and what we can all do to address it.
Van Harn shared the story of her upbringing in rural west Michigan in a family that was a part of the Christian Patriarchy Movement. As she grew older, she was raised to see herself only as a subservient wife and mother to a husband selected by her father. If she resisted, she was threatened with condemnation from God and shunning by her family. With no life outside of her family, Van Harn shared how she took the courageous step of escaping her situation with her children, and how she pieced together the life she lives today.
Ultimately, Van Harn made clear that the fight against forced marriage is not just overseas, it needs to be fought right here at home. Forced marriage exists in our own backyard in lives lived all around us, and often the law is as blind to the problem as the rest of society is. Van Harn pointed out that we must work to uncover forced marriage in our society and work to create laws that address it, but also that we must do our part to support those who escape and help them to construct a new life.