Invisible Women

Last winter I polled a particular group of women.   I asked them about their experiences as young adults over the age of 18.  Here are some of the results.

56% I was not allowed to own a car and/or get a driver’s license.

50% I did not have access to transportation.

69% I did not have freedom to dress as I pleased.

38% I believed or feared that going against the/some rules would result in physical punishment.

13% I was spanked (after the age of 18).

44% I believed or feared that going against the/some rules would result in homelessness.

81% I was not allowed to spend time with some people or in some social situations that I desired to be in.

56% I was not permitted to pursue a romantic interest I had.

44% I did not receive either a legally accepted high school diploma or a GED or equivalent.

69% I spent more than 20 hours a week cleaning/cooking/taking care of the home and was unpaid.

The women I polled were not captured by strangers or taken to a foreign country.  These were women who had lived at home with their families their entire lives.  They did not go to school, watch TV, or listen to the radio.  Although they lived in the U.S., they were unfamiliar with American customs and culture.

92% had believed that “if I were to call the police about a family matter something bad would happen to me.”

75% had believed that they could be physically obstructed from leaving their home without legal recourse.

Only 9% had been aware that “if I were to move out of my parents’ home, there were shelters and other non-profit and government assistance programs to provide shelter, food, basic living necessities, and training until I was able to support myself.”

The women I polled were born into and raised by controlling families in the U.S. and had their access to information severely limited from an early age.  As children and young adults, they had not been much aware of their legal rights.  They had feared the government and the legal system instead of believing that it could help them.

These women are not rare, but they are invisible.  There may be tens of thousands of them in the U.S.  Only the minority make it out.  The majority continue in this situation or marry and repeat it with their own children.

At the time they answered this poll, these particular women had recently exited and were establishing lives for themselves.  The challenges and difficulties they faced is fascinating and worthy of a post devoted to it.

I believe that these women were victims of human trafficking even though they don’t meet the standard profile of a foreigner held captive by strangers.  I believe that these women have fallen through the cracks in the system.  Non-profits and NGOs are not reaching out to help them.

What I would like to see: public awareness, outreach from support networks to these victims, and the working out of the legal system on how to approach these situations and what recourse and protection women who have been victimised in this way have.

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