Hand book for brides from India
Important tips on domestic violence
by Anuradha G
[What constitutes domestic violence]
[Before you say Yes]
[Be Prepared - before you leave ]
[Be Prepared - in the US]
[More Information & Help]
So, you are now the fiancéee of a groom from the land of milk and honey-the United States of America. Congratulations! But, before you go ahead with stars in your eyes and a song in your heart, just take a few minutes to read this book. It might make the difference between life and death to you. Or at a very mild level, at least stop you from making the same mistakes I made, and suffer endless heartache.
Maybe you are a fresh young bride about to step wonderingly into the realms of matrimony. Or maybe you are an autumn bride like me, attempting to make another go at matrimony. In either case, you cannot afford to make mistakes. In the first case, it would be best that your rosy dreams become a reality and you have a happy married life. In the second case, women like you and me cannot afford to make another mistake. The consequences are too many and too hard to bear. So, just arm yourself with the knowledge on what to do if the unexpected happens to you too.
Knowledge is a powerful tool that could have made my misery a little lesser. At least, it will give you the confidence that you know exactly how to get out of a situation that is getting out of hand. This is better than being totally unprepared.
What is this unexpected that I am talking about? It is in simple terms called 'Domestic Violence'.
I am not touching on the topic of possible use of women in sexual trafficking, after they are lured to the US in the guise of getting married. In such a case, just call the police. Dial 911.
I am dealing with physical, mental or emotional violence that can turn a marriage into a nightmare. What makes it worse is that you are all alone in a strange land. Without the knowledge of the laws and help that is available, you are a sitting duck for unscrupulous men.
Remember that America is a land where you have more rights that can be enforced, than back home. Never let anyone lead you to believe that you are helpless and alone there. Help is at hand. Only you should know how and when to get it. There are the police, who are the victim's best friend. Then there are many not for profit organizations that can help you with finance, emergency shelter, getting your immigration petition filed if required, assistance in legal issues and getting you state benefits. In short getting you back on your feet!
This can happen to you too: My story
At one time, I too was like you. Secure in the typical Indian family environment. I had a career, had enough money to spend. Yes, I had gone through a divorce before, but then I had my family to support me and I came out of it, without many scars. Having the sole custody of my child and no alimony or child support, I had a long and hard struggle before I could get back on my feet again. I faced everything - the social ostracism, the looks, the talks, the gossip before I could triumphantly stand on my own and show the world that I was a person in my own right.
It took me nearly ten years to work up my courage to get into another relationship again. It took only four short months for my life to be destroyed all over again thanks to my marriage to this US citizen.
You see, I am a normal human being too. Looking around at the couples and families all around me, the small spark of desire to have a husband for myself and a father for my daughter lit up in my heart after going it alone for such a long time. I succumbed to this desire and posted my profile on Bharathmatrimony.com. Responses, I got many. Even before I could investigate and see which to eliminate and which to pursue, I got a very interesting mail from my would-be father- in-law.
Well, my husband to be's face looked open and honest in the photograph, and I ignored all the red flags. I waited for nearly five months for his divorce to get through, and then tried to be 'understanding' when he did not want to reveal personal information. In fact, I did not know what his job was until he came one year later to get engaged to me. And then I waited for another year, when he took his own sweet time to file the paperwork.
Meanwhile, I spent all the money I had saved up for my daughter's future on the lavish engagement ceremony I hosted when he came here, for gifts for all his relatives and friends who attended the function. I even paid for his trip to Puttabarthi, which he shamelessly accepted. Even then, I did not realize that this was not acceptable behavior. I invested in a computer to be able to communicate regularly on the Internet with him. Built up a trousseau as per his mothers demands, bought expensive clothes for him and his family. Spent money on the visa, on gold and all the things I thought I should - to set a proper foundation for my marriage.
Finally the day arrived when I flew to the US after crossing all the hurdles of the visa process. In fact, I remember the US embassy official showing his concern that my fiancé had requested them not to reveal his personal information to me. I remember him asking, whether we had had discussions about faith and trust and like a fool, I replied happily that I had all the faith and trust in my fiancé!!
When we first arrived, everything was hunky dory. And then it began, slowly. My daughter and I were nudged into the role of maidservants. All my freedom was curbed. I was not even allowed to talk to my own daughter. She was made to stay upstairs in a room all alone during the daytime. I had to do all the housework while my in - laws relaxed and enjoyed the luxury of having an unpaid servant.
They had covered their tracks very well. I was introduced as a family friend to the few people I came across in those four months. Even his own close relatives were not told about my existence. When I questioned them, they explained it away saying that it was being done to keep his ex - wife from knowing about us and stopping our marriage, I swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Sometimes, they changed the story slightly and said they could not suddenly out of the blue announce that their son was engaged and would do it slowly - after all it was only a second marriage. Eager to make the marriage work, I agreed to it all.
They had a field time in the next four months, testing the limits to which my daughter and I could be degraded and used. Having left everything, having spent all my money and burnt all the boats, I bore everything. I thought at least things might improve after the marriage.
Economically, socially, emotionally and mentally, we were their slaves. They had effectively stopped me from making or receiving calls from my cousins and friends in the US saying that they did not want word about our engagement to spread and reach his ex wife. Hi s ex wife was an effective tool that they used to keep me from suspecting what they were upto.
We got married but nothing changed. My shock increased and my suspicion that they had brought me here only to work when my husband refused to consummate the marriage.
I am not going into all the details of the emotional and mental torture we underwent. Suffice it to say, every tool was used to harass and torment us. Whether it was in terms of food, freedom or simply anything for that matter.
There were occasions when I wanted to scream out loud and cried all night wanted to just run away from the house. Several times, I begged my father in law to allow me to talk to somebody outside the family, as I was going mad. But, displaying great concern, he said, nobody was more interested in me than his family and I could talk to him anytime I wanted.
The kind of intensive damage done by my mother-in-law to my daughter and me cannot even be explained. If I say she dripped honey outside and flowed poison inside that would be the right description. If I have to describe it in my daughter's own words it is thus - "mama, she can kill you with her words, emotionally and mentally". What can you say of such a person?
In addition to all this, I could not but help notice that my husband was not normal. He was given to extreme paranoia. He would suspect bugs in the living room, in the microwave, in the rice cooker! He suspected I was a spy to his ex-wife, come to destroy his family!
Apart from this, they made no attempts to get me a social security number or teach me to drive. I did not have much money on me, but what little I had was also taken away. It was done so cleverly. My father-in-law who is a past master in manipulation made me feel so miserable about a bigamy case that his ex- wife threatened him with that I finally, said okay, I would pay for it. So they took away that money also. In effect, I was penniless, without any outside contact and totally at their mercy - just the way they wanted it.
Finally, unable to tolerate it anymore, I called 911 and we escaped. In total depression, I did not even know what I was doing. I made random calls to several social service organizations. Could not make any decisions on what to do next. Lay depressed and weak on the bed for a week, before kind relatives literally pushed me into seeking help and get back on my feet.
In four short months, my whole life had turned topsy-turvy. Here I was penniless, jobless, and without a proper legal status that would enable me to get a job and support my daughter and myself. I was a persona non grata for my husband and his family. After all they had lost nothing. Nobody knew about my existence and they could explain my absence away as a guest who had left the house or to the few people who knew what I was to them that I had left because my father had cancer.
Getting help from non profit organizations is difficult when the abuse is not the physical with visible injuries is difficult. However, if your case is genuine, be assured that the officials in the organizations can immediately spot it and offer help.
In my case, by a strange link of well meaning people, a kind Indian family took us in. There in Fresno, California, I approached a non profit organization Centro La Familia. Rosemary Moreno, the outreach co ordinator of the organization, heard my story and immediately offered help. With quiet assurance, she put my fears to rest and gave me confidence in fighting against this injustice. I had finally found a safe harbor to slowly heal and get back to my feet. That's my story!
Four short months had rendered me penniless and homeless. Without any status, it is difficult to survive in the US. So, please take heed. These are tips that might help you based on my personal experience. The first step is to understand what constitutes Domestic Violence.
What Constitutes Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is about one person getting and keeping power and control over another person in an intimate relationship. The abusive person might be your current or former spouse, live-in lover or dating partner. A psychologist and law school professor who is an expert in domestic violence has described it as "a pattern of behavior in which one intimate partner uses physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation and emotional, sexual or economic abuse to control and change the behavior of the other partner." (Mary Ann Dutton)
Domestic violence happens to people of all ages, races, ethnicity, and religions. It occurs in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships. Economic or professional status does not indicate domestic violence - abusers and victims can be laborers or college professors, judges or janitors, doctors or orderlies, schoolteachers, truck drivers, homemakers or store clerks. Domestic violence occurs in the poorest ghettos, the fanciest mansions and white-picket-fence neighborhoods.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE is a pattern of abusive behavior that keeps one partner in a position of power over the other partner through the use of fear, intimidation and control.
- PHYSICAL ABUSE: Grabbing, pinching, shoving, slapping, hitting, hair pulling, biting, etc. Denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.
- SEXUAL ABUSE: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact without consent, e.g., marital rape, forcing sex after physical beating, attacks on sexual parts of the body or treating another in a sexually demeaning manner.
- ECONOMIC ABUSE: Making or attempting to make a person financially dependent, e.g., maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding access to money, forbidding attendance at school or employment.
- EMOTIONAL ABUSE: Undermining a person's sense of self-worth, e.g., constant criticism, belittling one's abilities, name calling, damaging a partner's relationship with the children.
- PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE: Causing fear by intimidation, threatening physical harm to self, partner or children, destruction of pets and property, mind games or forcing isolation from friends, family, school and/or work.
Here are a few actions by your spouse that would be classified as Domestic abuse:
Does your partner…
Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?
Put down your accomplishments or goals?
Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
Tell you that you are nothing without them?
Treat you roughly - grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you?
Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
Blame you for how they feel or act?
Pressure you sexually for things you aren't ready for?
Make you feel like there "is no way out" of the relationship?
Prevent you from doing things you want - like spending time with your friends or family?
Try to keep you from leaving after a fight or leave you somewhere after a fight to "teach you a lesson"?
Sometimes feel scared of how your partner will act?
Constantly make excuses to other people for your partner's behavior?
Believe that you can help your partner change if only you changed something about yourself?
Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?
Stay with you partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke-up?
If any of these are happening in your relationship, talk to someone. Without some help, the abuse will continue.
Before you say 'YES!'
Check him out
Yes, I know it feels very mean to be checking out the background of a person that you are going to marry. I felt that way too. I felt that if I could not trust him now, what then was the basis for our marriage and look where I am now? That was perhaps the most stupid sentiment I could possible have ever had. Remember, you need to love yourself first. That means, you need to be 100 per cent sure that you will be 'SAFE'.
Believe me, going 10,000 miles away from your homeland and having no family or friends nearby AND not knowing the rules of the country or your rights can be horrendous if things turn for the worse.
Getting background information on him
- Get his full name. Go to a search engine and look up white pages in that particular state or city. Key in his name and you should get his address and phone number. If not, it is an unlisted number. There are several reasons for people to keep unlisted phone numbers. But it is always good to question it, when one goes to such lengths to keep his telephone off the directory. That could be a potential Red flag
- Find out the county he belongs to. Go to the county page on the Internet and look for case look up or court records. There if you key in his name, you should find a list of cases that he is involved in, even if it is just the previous divorce. Normally copies of the final decree of the court are available for a nominal fee of 1 dollar per page. Call the county court and ask how you can get the copy. You will be given an address to mail your check to along with a self addressed stamped envelope.
- There are several on line agencies that can do a background check on him. Do it. It is worth spending that 100 dollars now. Given the number of such cases, matrimonial sites are also offering to do it for a cost. Take the offer, spend money now, you will save much later.
- Another step can be to ask to speak to his neighbors, colleagues and friends. On line sites also give a list of his neighbors and their address and phone number for a nominal fee. If he has nothing to hide, there is no reason why he should not allow you or your family to do that. Believe me, things work differently in the US. All our Indian sentiments of "what will he think?" or pussy footing around tricky issues are not tolerated here. Because, being careful can make all the difference to your life..
- a) Does he hesitate to reveal all the essential personal information to you?
- b) Does he want you to sign a prenuptial document?
- c) Does he live with his parents or extended family?
- d) Does he blame his ex squarely for the break up of his first marriage?
- e) Does he keep questioning you about the family or friends you have in the US?
- f) Is he reluctant to talk to well wishers from your side?
- g) Ascertain that he is really divorced, if this is a second marriage. Ask for a copy of his divorce certificates. This is because, in many cases like mine, these men post their profile even before their divorce is through and promise that it will be through soon. The 'soon' can go anywhere from one month to several months or even years. So be careful, no man is worth waiting for, for that long.
- h) Is he not prepared to allow you to talk to his ex or her family members?
Now that you have done all the spade-work and decided to go ahead with the marriage, keep these things in mind. For one thing, there is no harm in arming yourself with knowledge and taking those few steps of precaution that can come in useful if things go wrong. Another thing is that it always prudent to BE PREPARED. After all, who can really look into a mans mind and see what is running through it? Who can predict what can take place within four walls?
Before leaving the country:
Be prepared-A few tips
- Get photo copies of important documents:
- birth certificate
- medical records
- vaccination records
- His divorce decree
- His naturalisation certificate
- His passport copy
- Any official papers that he has sent you including visiting cards, letter from his employer.
Get copies of personal documents
At this juncture, it is important that you be careful about what you write to him in your mails. Do not reveal too many personal details or anything else that can be used as evidence against you later,if he has a twisted mind.
Get copies of all financial transactions
- Photographs of any engagement ceremony
- Photographs of both of you together
- His photographs
- Correspondence between you both
- Telephone bills showing your calls to him
- Receipts of materials spent on the alliance
- Receipt of the visa fee
- Receipt of phone calls
- Receipt of purchase of air tickets
Remember nothing is unimportant.
For your own use
- Copies of all educational and career related certificates.
- A list of important phone numbers of family and friends in India and the US
- Learn to drive a four wheeler. That is the basic requirement for survival here. Except for a few major cities, you cannot really rely on public transport or cabs here. Knowing how to drive can be a big asset.
- Keep some emergency cash in US dollars handy. Keep as many quarters as you can. They are very handy to make calls from pay phones and to use in vending machines when you are on your own.
- If possible, maintain a personal cell phone
In the US
- Ask him to apply for your Social security number. You require this for every official work, including obtaining a driving license and opening a bank account
- It would be best if your husband opens a bank account for you or gives you a credit card
- Keep a record of
These come in very handy for almost every official work.
- His social security number
- Copy of his naturalization certificate if possible
- The file number for your I 130 application for greencard and note the date of application
- Copy of your medical records
- Ideally you should be allowed to go out on your own. Try to make friends with neighbors. And if things start going wrong, keep your neighbors informed. Maybe give them a list of phone numbers of your family to be contacted, if anything goes wrong.
- Always keep at least one set of clothes in a small carry on or cabin luggage. This should come in handy if you have to leave the house suddenly.
Outside the house
- Learn to use pay phones
- Learn to use vending machines
- Remember that there are greyhound buses that can take you anywhere between states in America, but often you might have to wait if the bus is delayed anywhere between half an hour to four hours. This will help you to be prepared, in case he comes after you.
- If any one of the things that comes under the description of Domestic Violence is happening with you, go ahead, pick up the phone and dial 911. Remember, that one phone call could make the world of difference to your life. Do not have any mercy on your husband and in laws. They have no right to treat you badly. You deserve to be treated with dignity and they deserve to be punished.
- Remember, the police are a woman's best friend in the US. They respond immediately and are the best bet to get out of a situation that is getting out of hand.
- If you can make the call from home, go ahead and do it. The police officer that picks up your call will offer to stay on the line while the police arrive to rescue you. This is often within a few minutes. Once you make that call, you are SAFE.
- At least two or three officers will arrive and escort you out of the house. Then they will question you separately, while they question your husband separately. If there are any weapons in the house, tell them. If you have been physically abused, tell them. They can make an arrest immediately. Even mental and emotional abuse, is abuse. And if your spouse or in laws have been restraining you from going out of the house, that is also against the law. In the US, like in India, you are free to go out anywhere, anytime. In fact, the laws are much more stringent in the US in terms of personal freedom.
- Once you are out, you will be asked where you would like to go. If you have friends or relatives, you may tell the police and you will be put on the Greyhound bus or flight (whichever you prefer) based on the amount you have ready at hand to their place by the police themselves.
If you do not have any money on you
- Call your friends or relatives in the US.
- Do not worry if you do not have a phone. The police will allow you to make calls from their cell phones.
- If possible plan before you call 911. Try and find a safe place you can go to after the police escort you out of the house. Otherwise, you might have to go to a shelter. If that is the only option left, you should make use of it. If you do however end up in a shelter, you will be given documentation to show that you were in a shelter, keep it because it will help you in your case.
With the police
- Tell them clearly all the problems you faced that prompted you to call them
- Ask for the yellow colored complaint card and the officers name and telephone number
- Obtain a copy of the police report. This is very easy. You just need to write to the open records division of the police department and quote the complaint number and request a copy of the police report. This can be done by e mail too. It normally takes about ten days for the police report to reach you
- If you go to a shelter, ask for counseling. Get a copy from the counselor on your mental status at that time
- Obtain a copy of your period of stay in the shelter.
- Talk to the INS and inform them about the situation and ask for their advice. Note down the time, date of the call and also record the name of the official you have spoken with. That will be another important record
- Then make a call to the domestic violence hotline; they will give you numbers of organization that can help you
- Concentrate on first getting the immigration self petition filed, consolidate your status
- Then try and get help to fight your divorce case
- If you have children, get them into school. This can be done without a social security number also. It is the rule in the US that all children regardless of their legal status should be in school. So you will first need to go the school nearest to the place of your shelter. Talk to the school officials, they will ask you to meet the area education officers. You may have to produce a document to show proof of address. If you are in a shelter, get a letter from them. If you are with private individuals, a letter from the head of the family should do. Immunization is compulsory. There are places where immunization is administered at a nominal fee of 5 dollars per shot. Regardless of the number of shots, the cost will not cross 30 dollars.
How do I apply for immigration benefits as a battered spouse or child?. Information about procedures and regulations, from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
South Asian Community Organizations that help victims of domestic violence.
Sawnet Domestic Violence page
South Asian Women's Organizations