Over the past few years, the idea of ‘dating’ has changed significantly.
What was once about finding the courage to ask the cute guy or girl for their number or out for dinner has shifted to an anonymous presence dropping you a message over one of the many dating apps the world has to offer. Although these apps have allowed many to find love in places they never knew they would, has it also made us more oblivious to the darker side of dating? For some, dating is not the heartwarming experience most of us get, but one that leads to something significantly more detrimental: forced marriage.
Understanding and recognising the signs of forced marriage is hard enough as it is. With the addition of more people engaging online, and fewer people engaging in person, it is becoming easier for forced marriages to go unnoticed. A forced marriage is when one or both of the people involved cannot or do not consent to the marriage, but are forced to go ahead with it. It is a human rights abuse that occurs all over the world, predominantly impacting women and girls. Not only is a forced marriage disallowing someone to make their own decisions, but it is also frequently coupled with other forms of abuse, including physical and sexual abuse.
Unfortunately, some dating sites have been used as a haven for individuals to abuse vulnerable women and manipulate them into marriage. One site, realmeets, is specifically set up for people to find someone to marry almost immediately, with many women on there looking to come from other countries to the UK. This vulnerability makes them susceptible to abuses such as forced marriage, with the other person offering them their ‘dream’ in return for marrying them.
The harm that forced marriages can cause to people is exponential. These arrangements are mentally and physically exhaustive and are limiting in every way. Being able to recognise the signs of forced marriage is the first step to stopping it. In 2012, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) had 1500 phone calls regarding concerns about forced marriage, with 82% involving women and a huge number being under 25 years old. Many were taken abroad to marry people they’d never met and then left there rather than coming home to the UK.
Victims of forced marriage, or those who are at risk may be under pressure from their families, might not openly disclose this information, but it might be exerted in a number of ways. They may become depressed or utilise self-harming behaviours. They may feel they are bringing shame on their families. They may become withdrawn or isolated. They may have suddenly moved away to be with a new husband. They secretively begin asking about contraception. They may have injuries that are related to domestic violence. They may ask about terminating a pregnancy. All of these indicators could be signs of someone being forced into a marriage, however, they become significantly harder to notice when socialising moves to the online world.
With all the good that online dating has brought to people’s lives, it’s difficult to write it off, and that’s not the intention here. However, it is important to recognise that if our whole lives are online, then people’s lives become isolated, and more and more people become vulnerable to these sorts of risks. Making sure there is time for face-to-face interaction will enable us to continue our fight against forced marriage. At JAN Trust, we work with the community by providing training and raising awareness of the impact and signs of forced marriage. If you would like to learn more about our work, visit www.jantrust.org/project/against-forced-marriage/. By raising awareness of this issue and reminding ourselves to take the time to check in on people, together we can bring an end to this abuse.