Growing up, Rose* knew that her family expected her to marry a distant relation overseas. She had been promised to the man by her family since before she was born.

As she reached her teenage years she began to feel sick with worry. She tried to raise the issue with her family many times, however they told her that the decision was made, and that she did not have a choice.

As Rose felt more and more controlled and hopeless, her mental health declined.

Forced marriage modern slavery
Pressure from her family and the stress of the impending marriage took its toll on Rose’s mental health.

Her friends recognised that she was struggling and asked what was wrong, prompting Rose to share her family’s plans and that she was feeling scared. The friends recognised the signs of forced marriage and helped her find out about available support.

Making the decision to leave home

According to the Attorney-General’s Department, forced marriage is ‘when a person gets married without freely and fully consenting, because they have been coerced, threatened or deceived’.

Rose faced coercion from her family in the form of psychological and emotional pressure. In these situations people are made to ‘feel responsible for, or ashamed of the consequences of not marrying, such as bringing shame on their family’.

Rose decided she could not go ahead with the marriage and needed to leave home.

“The plan originally was to leave home by myself, but I was a bit worried about how I could actually do that and I knew I might need support with the mental impact,” she explains. Her friends told her about organisations like The Salvation Army which could help young people at risk of forced marriage.

Forced marriage modern slavery
The Salvation Army operates a Safe House for women who have experienced modern slavery (including human trafficking and forced marriage) in Australia. Photo: The Salvation Army Australia.

She phoned The Salvation Army’s Trafficking and Slavery Safe House to discuss her situation. “I wasn’t sure if the support was real,” she admits. The social worker she spoke to assured her that if she needed to leave home to avoid the marriage taking place, she would be supported.

Next Rose was connected with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for safety planning. “Meeting with the AFP made me realise a lot of things about my rights which I hadn’t been sure about before,” she says. “It made me feel safer.”

Focusing on the future

Despite feeling a lot of sadness, guilt and anxiety about leaving home and her family, Rose decided to put herself first. The Red Cross Support for Trafficked People Program supported her with emergency accommodation after she left. The initial period after leaving was particularly difficult, but with the support of close friends and her case workers, Rose started to focus on her future.

“For the first few weeks I felt really wrong, uncomfortable and not knowing where I belonged,” Rose describes. “Then I had a lightbulb moment where I realised I had to change my life and be more independent. I didn’t want to keep feeling mentally unwell like how I had been at home before.

“I wanted to go out and go to work, I wanted to get my own place. Culturally, I had seen women have to rely on men, so I wanted to make sure I was an independent woman. It felt good to have independence.”

Forced marriage modern slavery
Leaving her family was devastating but Rose coped by focusing on a future she would be free to control.

A new home – and in charge of her own life

After securing a new job, Rose entered the Sisters of Charity Foundation’s Modern Slavery Transitional Housing Program, which helped set her up in her own apartment. Her new home is close to work and her friends. Rose’s favourite thing about living in the apartment is having freedom.

“I have control over how things look, what I want to watch on TV, when I do things – doing what I want to do when I want to,” she says. “I like to host my friends and enjoy having them over. I don’t have to live by anyone else’s expectations.”

Rose learnt all about her tenancy rights and responsibilities thanks to the case worker provided through the program, and even enjoys managing her bills. “I was so happy when I got my first electricity bill because it had my own name on it!” she says.

“I had a proud moment. This time last year I didn’t think that I would be here. It just kind of shows me – look you are independent.”

Rose’s advice to any young people going through a major life change is to have compassion for themselves. “One thing I’ve learnt is to be patient with myself. I used to be scared that I wouldn’t overcome this feeling, and not get better mentally,” she explains. “Then I let myself feel what I had to feel, didn’t try to push it aside. I learnt to cope. Once I gave myself time, I felt happier than ever.”

About the Sisters of Charity Foundation’s Modern Slavery Transitional Housing Program

When a survivor is ready to live independently, the Modern Slavery Transitional Housing Program can help them reach their goal. In this unique model:

  1. The survivor has secured employment and a steady income, and is ready to transition to independent living.
  2. The Salvation Army helps the survivor find suitable rental accommodation that’s close to work and transport.
  3. The Sisters of Charity Foundation provides a lump sum to set up the home with furniture and whitegoods, and heavily subsidises each rental payment for up to 12 months.
  4. The survivor is supported by a Salvation Army case worker, funded by the Sisters of Charity Foundation.
  5. When the survivor is ready they take over the lease – and they now have a proven rental and employment history in Australia.

This 28–31 July, the Sisters of Charity Foundation is Raising the Roof for survivors of modern slavery in Australia. Learn how you can support the campaign, and help more survivors into independence.

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.

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