"I still remember that feeling of butterflies in my stomach and my heart beating really fast. There was no knowing what her family would have done if they had any indication she was trying to leave."
A survivor of forced marriage with an incredible story to tell inspiring women to have the willpower to leave...
Over the course of 2 weeks, we received an anonymous call to our Aanchal 24-hour helpline, but the caller never spoke. Eventually a 27-year-old woman, Gurpreet found the strength to talk and asked if she could come to our office to meet with an advisor.
When she arrived the following day, it was apparent that Gurpreet had several complex needs. She was registered blind and identified as having learning disabilities.
At first, Gurpreet spent an hour in silence, unsure of her caseworker. Eventually, a dialogue started when the caseworker decided it best to start with something completely irrelevant to Gurpreets abuse. They spoke about Eastenders. Talking about her favourite soap proved to be positive, and the rapport between client and caseworker developed. The more they spoke, the more Gurpreet became comfortable and disclosed that her family was forcing her into a marriage, which was to take place in India.
She disclosed that she was being financially abused. Her primary carer, her mother, had full control over her accounts leaving her with little independence. She felt like a prisoner in her own home, she didn’t feel safe.
Gurpreet was very distressed and made it clear to her caseworker that she did not want to get married; she didn't want any form of relationship; she felt she was only just able to care for herself.
The caseworker spent time with her and went through all of her options. One was to apply for a ‘Forced Marriage Order’. They explored the best-supported housing solutions available.
She left Aanchal that day with knowledge and options, allowing her to make fully informed choices, safeguard herself and plan ahead. Her caseworker kept in touch every day to ensure she was safe.
A week later, Gurpreet rang on our helpline out of hours. Her parents had booked tickets for the family to travel to India, wedding plans had been made. Petrified; she had no idea who the man was, knew nothing of his family. She felt she had no other option than to leave; she feared the consequences if she continued to resist.
Her caseworker began to work immediately to find a safe way for her to leave her family and find appropriate accommodation. Due to the complex needs, a refuge was not suitable.
After negotiating with the local authority, they agreed to find Gurpreet a placement in a specialist refuge. There is only 1 such refuge in London.
To provide the best possible protection, she was supported with obtaining an FMO through the high court. But before the order could be served on Gurpreets family, her caseworker needed to ensure Gurpreets safety by supporting her to move into the specialist refuge immediately. A plan was made; a taxi had been pre-booked to pick her up once her family was out.
On the day Gurpreet planned to flee, things did not go according to plan. Her mother returned just as the taxi was due to arrive. 'I still remember that feeling of butterflies in my stomach and my heart beating really fast, there was no knowing what her family would have done if they had any indication she was trying to leave.' Gurpreets caseworker.
Her caseworker had to reschedule two other taxis that day; a family member returned home on both occasions. It was getting to the point of police involvement, which was a concern for Gurpreet, there was fear of escalation or an altercation.
Eventually, there was a 20 minutes window before her father returned home and she managed to get safely to the refuge.
Gurpreet lived in a safe house for a year, and she was supported with all her needs. She then moved into her own flat in a supported living building. Becoming a confident person, she managed her own money and became more independent. “Over time, I have been able to see the Impact Aanchal had on my life and witnessed the positive outcome”. Gurpreet expressed that if it had not been for Aanchal, she would never have taken the steps she did to protect herself from being forced into a marriage, and would now be trapped in a marriage, separated from anyone or anything she ever knew.
“Aanchal Women’s Aid gave me a new life and the willpower to live.”