Against their will: Inside Canada’s forced marriages

Forced marriage is one of the last taboos to break. A new law could make it a crime. So why do those who champion prevention oppose it?

Lee Marsh, a former Jehovah's Witness who was married off by her parents at a young age, at her Ottawa apartment. (Photograph by Blair Gable)

Lee Marsh, a former Jehovah’s Witness who was married off by her parents at a young age, at her Ottawa apartment. (Photograph by Blair Gable)

Two weeks after her 18th birthday, Lee Marsh was sitting at the kitchen table one Sunday, reading the Bible, when her mother came in and announced that Marsh would marry a 20-year-old member of their Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Montreal. The girl was stunned; she had met her husband-to-be just once. Five weeks later, it was done.

For a few months before, her mother had been shopping her around while sizing up men in the congregation—some more than 20 years older—looking for a suitable husband. She made Marsh wear a tight, low-cut white dress bought for the outings. “I hated wearing it. I’ve always preferred to be covered up,” Marsh says. “But my mother really wanted me to be attractive to these men.” Marsh’s mother had rejected all the suitors up to that day in 1970 when she announced the match. “I knew I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion. This wasn’t a woman that you said no to.”

Marsh thought about the leather strap hanging by the front door, the one her mother used when the children—Marsh was the eldest of four—dared to defy her. They never knew what would set her off; two weeks before, Marsh had got it for not cleaning the house properly. So Marsh buried the feelings of anger and betrayal she felt toward the woman who had abandoned her twice already in her short life: After her parents divorced when she was nine, she was left behind in Toronto with a father she says sexually abused her; later, in Montreal, when she had returned to her mom, she says her mother’s Jehovah’s Witness boyfriend also sexually assaulted her, and she was sent into foster care.

In their congregation, the pressure to get married early was intense. Breaking off the engagement was not an option. “Once the announcement was made in church that we were getting married, I was trapped,” she says. “I couldn’t back out of it.” Marsh would do anything to stay in her mother’s good graces; she couldn’t bear the thought of losing her again.

During the ceremony, Marsh was terrified. “I wanted to run, but I didn’t dare.” She had told her husband about her history of sexual abuse, but he told her not to worry, that they would get through it together.

Two weeks into the marriage, Marsh realized just how much she resented it. Her husband started demanding sex constantly and she felt it was her duty to submit. “The Witnesses believe that when you’re married, you are obligated to deliver sex whenever your husband wants it,” she explains. “It brought back everything I had gone through as a child and I became extremely depressed and suicidal.”

But she stayed, had two children and, for 15 years, endured what she describes as incessant verbal and sexual abuse from a man who eventually became a church elder. That meant he passed judgment on others in the congregation, deciding whether or not they had sinned and how they would be punished. In 1984, Marsh decided to leave. In addition to a legal, secular divorce, she needed a “spiritual” divorce, otherwise, the church would still consider her his wife. In a letter to church elders, she writes that she tried to be a “good, submissive wife,” and “almost always pushed aside my personal feelings so that he would be happy.” She details the emotional and sexual abuse, but does not cite forced marriage; only recently did she even hear the term. “It wasn’t really applicable at the time. I wanted out of the marriage, not because I was pushed into it, but because of the abuse that was triggering all of my past abuse,” she says.

It may seem strange, even impossible, that someone could be forced to marry against her will. But, like sexual assault—and, more recently, human trafficking—the curtain is being pulled back on what has been happening in Canada, and around the world, for centuries. In some nations, such as Norway, Belgium, Pakistan and the United Kingdom, forced marriage is a crime. Next year, Canada is expected to join that list when Bill S-7, which adds forced marriage to the Criminal Code, is approved.

In September 2013, Toronto’s South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario released a report that counted 219 confirmed or suspected cases of forced marriage in Ontario and Quebec from 2010 to 2012, information obtained through interviews and a survey filled out by service providers from shelters, legal clinics, immigration agencies and youth groups. The people, the vast majority of whom are women, came from a wide range of religious groups: 103 were Muslim, 12 Christian, 44 Hindu, 24 were unsure of their religious affiliation, and five had none. Almost half were Canadian citizens and, in most cases, family members were the perpetrators. People were taken out of Canada to get married in 57 per cent of cases. Yet the report points out that the Department of Foreign Affairs “confirmed they had provided assistance” to just 34 individuals from 2009 to 2012.

Forced marriage always involves pressure to wed against a person’s will, under physical or emotional duress, or without free and informed consent, according to definitions from international law and human rights groups. The main reason people submit to a marriage is because they do not want to disobey or disappoint family or church.

Very little data exist on forced marriage in Canada, but numerous court cases and anecdotal evidence suggest it’s been happening for more than a century, from coast to coast. Only in the last decade have researchers and advocacy groups started to grasp its prevalence and scope.

Shortly after Marsh sent that letter to her church, the elders “dis-fellowshipped” her and announced it to the congregation; Marsh packed her bags and moved out. She says her husband bribed her children to stay with him, but, in 1986, she obtained custody of her two daughters, then 14 and 10, and went on to study at Montreal’s Dawson College and Concordia University to become a counsellor for abused women and children. Now 62, Marsh frequently hears from ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who say they, too, were forced to marry. “I used to think I was the only one, but I’m hearing more and more women saying they were forced into marriage. I’m flabbergasted, because I thought I was alone.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada would not directly answer questions regarding Marsh’s claims, but a spokesperson said in an email that “forced marriage, and spouses being required to submit to marital acts against their will, is repugnant and contrary to what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, practise and teach.” They pointed to their website for information on dis-fellowshipping, which states: “If a baptized Witness makes a practice of breaking the Bible’s moral code and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or dis-fellowshipped,” and also explains that dis-fellowshipped people who demonstrate a desire to change their ways are “welcome to become members of the congregation again.”

Photograph by Justin Chin

Antua Petrimoulx, a trans woman and Mexican refugee living in Canada, was forced to marry a woman at 20 despite knowing, deep down, that she was female. (Photograph by Justin Chin)

Since 2011, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has sought to make Canada a world leader in combatting forced marriage around the world, which he has said can be eradicated “within a generation.” Last October, he introduced the first-ever UN resolution dedicated to ending it, and has pledged approximately $35 million to projects combatting child and forced marriage in developing countries such as Ghana, Bangladesh, Zambia and Burkina Faso. Yet York University Ph.D. student Karlee Sapoznik, who researched forced marriage in Canada for her doctoral thesis, says the Canadian government has historically ignored—and even denied—that people get married against their will within our borders. “There’s almost this mythology that it doesn’t happen in Canada.”

On Nov. 5, when Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced S-7, the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act,” he introduced a three-pronged piece of legislation to address the problem at home and abroad. Alexander cited the 2012 Shafia honour killings, in which an immigrant from Afghanistan, his second wife and his only son conspired to drown the family’s three teenage daughters, because their “Westernized behaviour” had shamed the family. Bill S-7 would ban people in polygamous and forced marriages from immigrating to Canada. The second piece will amend the Civil Marriage Act to make 16 the minimum age of marriage across the country.

It would also enshrine forced marriage in the Criminal Code. “Everyone who celebrates, aids or participates in a marriage rite or ceremony knowing that one of the persons being married is marrying against their will” would be guilty of a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. It is moving at a fast clip through Parliament; it received its third reading on Dec. 12.

At York University, Sapoznik interviewed victims of forced marriages—including a Mennonite woman from Winnipeg, who says that in 1988, she was forced to get married at age 18 after her family and community found out she was pregnant—and examined legal cases dating back to the 19th century. More recently, 200 members of Lev Tahor, the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish group that originated in Jerusalem in the 1980s, moved to Quebec, where they lived for 10 years. Many fled to a small community in southwestern Ontario in 2013 after they heard that Children’s Aid was about to remove their children based on allegations that they were being confined to basements and forced to marry older men, among other abuses. An ex-member of the group testified that the goal of the community was to marry children by age 13. They fled again in March to Guatemala, although several children have since been returned to the Toronto area, where they are in foster care.

In Toronto, the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO) investigated its first case of forced marriage in 2005, after a counsellor at a Toronto high school called to report that a family of girls had gone abroad for a vacation, but one of them did not return to Canada. Deepa Mattoo, the acting executive director of the clinic, says the group tracked the girl down, found out she was about to be forced to marry, and arranged to bring her home.

In many of SALCO’s cases, women who come to them for advice don’t even know that what is happening to them is wrong. “People going through it know they aren’t being given a choice, but they don’t necessarily call it forced marriage,” said Mattoo. “They may say something like their father is making them get married, but they won’t say that their human rights are being violated.” Toronto’s Barbra Schlifer Clinic started a support program for forced-marriage victims in 2009, and the caseload has been increasing ever since. “I’ve had Irish clients who have experienced forced marriage; Roma clients, Saudi, South Asian, European and Christian clients. It’s pretty much across the board,” says Farrah Khan, who has been counselling victims since 2006. “We see different economic backgrounds, as well. We see it happening in communities that are isolated, in communities that have a fear about losing their connections to culture, to faith.” Rape must also be brought into discussions about forced marriage, because couples are expected to consummate the marriage.

For families with LGBT children, forced marriage is a way to control their sexuality and protect the family from the shame of having a gay or transgender child. Yegi Dadui, transgender program coordinator at the Sherbourne Health Clinic in Toronto, deals with about four cases a year involving both Canadian citizens and newcomers. “There’s so much stigma around being trans already. Not being able to express yourself and be yourself is difficult, and that’s what’s going on in forced-marriage situations, as well.” Because these cases are even more taboo, it’s difficult to find people who will discuss their experiences openly. Although Antua Petrimoulx is not one of Dadui’s clients, her story has parallels with other cases in Canada.

Born Manuel Aguilar in Reynosa, Mexico, in 1965, Petrimoulx was 20 when her mother, a devout Catholic, forced her to marry a woman, even though Petrimoulx knew, deep down, she was female with no desire for other women. Her mother and brothers taunted and punished her for behaving like a girl and having relationships with other boys. In her late teens, they forced her to have sex with a female prostitute in a hotel room and, shortly after that, her mother told her she would be marrying a woman in order to fit in with the community and become a real man. The couple had sex once, on their wedding night. After a couple of months, Petrimoulx moved back home, where the abuse escalated. Her mother forced her to take anti-psychotic medications, and often locked her in her bedroom. When she did make it out of the house dressed as a woman, the police frequently targeted her. She says she was once raped and burned with cigarettes by police officers in the back of their squad car. In 2005, she fled to Canada, where she filed an application for refugee status as a victim of forced marriage and police brutality. Her claim was accepted and she now lives in Windsor, Ont. Although she is safe, Petrimoulx suffers from depression, and has tried, and failed, to write the hairdresser’s exam five times; the stress and anxiety were too much and she could not concentrate. She cannot work and her mental health is precarious.

Mattoo says SALCO’s clients are often hesitant to seek help from the police or the courts, because they don’t want to incriminate—or testify against—family. Without them, they would be alone in the world, a fate sometimes more frightening than the abuse itself. It’s also difficult to prove emotional duress and subtler types of pressure. In cases of physical and sexual abuse, SALCO has helped clients pursue criminal charges against spouses they were forced to marry, the same way they would even if the marriages weren’t forced. For Mattoo, Canada already has robust laws that deal with abuse, and she feels victims are more in need of a place to live, counselling to deal with the psychological trauma, and help getting back on their feet after they leave their marriages and, sometimes, their family members.

That’s why SALCO and 13 other activist groups and social service agencies, including the Schlifer clinic and the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto, are opposed to Bill S-7. “The proposed legislation exposes the underlying racist agenda that this government harbours,” their statement reads, referring to the name of the bill and the fact that they feel it singles out non-Western communities where polygamy is accepted. Mattoo’s main criticism is that the new law allows the federal government to wash its hands of the problem. “I’m not saying that any criminal action should go unreported, but criminalizing will not help prevent it.”

On June 16, the United Kingdom made forced marriage a criminal offence. Its forced-marriage unit, created in 2005 by the British government in response to a growing number of cases, says it “gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage” in 1,302 cases between January and December 2013, the most recent statistics. Anyone who uses “violence, threats or any other form of coercion” to force someone to marry faces up to seven years in prison. The case of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Christian girl from Ontario is one of the first being investigated under the new law.

Photo by Justin Chin

Photo by Justin Chin

Elizabeth, who does not want to use her real name for fear of alerting her British ex-fiancé, whom she believes would jeopardize the criminal investigation, was raised in Hamilton by parents who belonged to the Church of God. It’s a distant offshoot of the Christian Open Brethren movement, which originated in 19th-century England and Ireland. The precise number of members is unknown, but scholars estimate there are 100 or so congregations around the world.

Elizabeth says church elders were very involved in her family’s day-to-day decisions, and friendships outside the community were discouraged. When she was in Grade 3, she recalls being pulled out of class by a social worker and taken to a room, where she was asked if she was fearful of being married off to older men. “Thankfully, that wasn’t happening, but all community members are required to marry within the group. The penalty for not doing so is punishment or expulsion,” she says. “The attitudes of the leaders toward their marriage practices are: If you don’t like it, just leave.”

At age 14, Elizabeth started receiving letters and gifts from men in her church and partner churches abroad who were interested in courting her. “They were also coming to visit all the time, making a point of being with my family, trying to get their foot in the door.” She wasn’t interested, and tried her best to ignore the advances, even graduating from high school. She was trying to figure out what she wanted to study at McMaster University when a church elder in his 30s came to town in search of a bride. One of his relatives began sending her tapes of sermons, in which he described how parishioners must only marry other church members or face excommunication. The church told the 25-year-old she would be cut off from her family if she didn’t marry the English church leader. “I was feeling pressure from the community, like a cloud hanging over me,” she said. “It’s a very difficult place to be in, because you’re being told the judgment of God is on you if you don’t conform.”

In a written response to questions about Elizabeth’s case, a spokesperson for the Church of God in Toronto says it’s not aware of any forced marriages in its congregations, and that members who may have come to Canada to find a spouse “probably came more in hope than expectation!”

In 2007, Elizabeth’s future husband brought her to England to prepare for the wedding. She thought she would live with someone else until they were married, but, when she arrived, he told her she had to live with him right away for immigration purposes. She was only allowed to leave the house to run errands or go to church. “I was being kept at home and told how to dress and the things I could or could not wear as the wife of an elder.”

She says he began raping her on a regular basis, once forcing himself on her in his car. It continued even when she was ill. “Rather than helping me through this sickness and getting me medical attention,” she said, “he’s demanding things sexually from me, premaritally, which is unusual in the Brethren.” In its letter, the Church of God Toronto states that “any church member engaging in premarital sex would be excommunicated from the Church for committing a serious sin.”

In 2008, Elizabeth’s fiancé brought her back to Canada, where she thought she would be retrieving the rest of her belongings. Instead, she says he took her to a room at the Holiday Inn by Toronto’s Pearson airport and sexually assaulted her for the last time. He flew back to England alone and she hasn’t seen him since.

Elizabeth says her parents and church elders ignored her complaints about the abuse and her plea to investigate and remove her ex-fiancé from his leadership role. Women in the church told her it was her fault the engagement fell through and that she should marry someone else. After writing church leaders about her grievances, she was officially excommunicated in a letter dated Sept. 26, 2011, for the “sin of unforgiveness,” specifically, for being unable to forgive her ex-fiancé and the church, but the letter does not go into further detail. “We do not intend to reopen discussion about those things. We have done all that we possibly can do as an oversight in Toronto. Local U.K. oversight has agreed, our District oversight has agreed, and those things must now be left with the Lord,” the letter to Elizabeth reads.

The Church of God Toronto wouldn’t comment on Elizabeth’s allegations, but says it would not “tolerate or permit the occurrence of sexual abuse by elders or church members” and would notify the police if it occurred.

Three years ago, Elizabeth was riding the bus in northeast Toronto when she saw an ad for the Agincourt Community Services Association’s forced marriage project, with the telephone number for its hotline at the bottom. In that moment, she realized what had happened to her, even though, in her case, no marriage had occurred. When she mustered up the courage a few weeks later to call, she got Shirley Gillett on the line. The program coordinator had been raised in an Open Brethren church outside Orillia, Ont., a more liberal offshoot of the Brethren movement. “I couldn’t say that I was surprised,” Gillett recalls. “We had suspected that we were going to find forced marriage in small Christian sects in Canada.” Gillett invited Elizabeth to join her group of six or so survivors, which meets monthly. Elizabeth is now co-operating with the Tees Valley Inclusion Project, a non-profit group based in Middlesbrough, England, which is looking into more than 100 forced-marriage cases. Hers is their second Christian case. U.K. government authorities are reviewing the evidence in her case to see whether a conviction is possible.

Elizabeth, now 33, lives in Toronto and has a long-term boyfriend. When she tries to explain the forces that conspired to keep her in the relationship, the despair seeps through the sentences that tumble out of her computer. “I felt damned if I do (get forced into marriage, because I am a lover of freedom), and damned if I don’t (get married ‘in the lord,’ because I could not function in a Brethren society, and there are some things about the way of life I enjoy). It’s like being sawn in half and torn between two realities—painful. It’s mental torture. I felt trapped.”

After excommunication, her parents wrote her out of their will in what she calls a classic Brethren tactic to make her feel socially rejected. “My parents are being very influenced by the Brethren and it REALLY upsets me,” she wrote in a recent email. “I feel like I’ve lost my own family members.”

She warned her parents not to go to any Brethren weddings, because even celebrating a forced marriage could mean a jail sentence under Canada’s proposed legislation. Elizabeth is disappointed that SALCO is opposed to Bill S-7, because she feels the new law would help young men and women like herself who are born into the Brethren community. The day the law passes, she will be free of the shame and guilt of her failed relationship, the abuse and her excommunication. Finally, there would be vindication: the acknowledgement that what happened to her was a crime.


Against their will: Inside Canada’s forced marriages

  1. The sad thing is, even if ‘arranged marriages’ are outlawed, many Jehovah’s Witnesses will continue to be trapped in abusive marriages due to the very common practice of marrying while still in their teens. This is very commonplace due to the instilled phobia of ‘committing fornication’ which can result in extreme shunning. Once married, these individuals are forbidden to divorce and remarry, even in cases of extreme violence and anyone disobeying this rule will be thrown out of the congregation and shunned by family and friends.

    • If someone is married to a Jehovah’s Witness and is being abused: they can leave the abusive marriage, separate, and separate legally. There is no shunning for such a course of action.

  2. When will the world wake up and see that religion is causing more harm than good due to all of the hidden and permitted crimes they commit? No one should be allowed to force/intimidate another human into marriage and/or sex while using the religious community as peer pressure with shunning and alienation as a weapon. Thank you for sharing your story Lee amd thank you Maclean’s for publishing it and building awareness :)

    • You might want to read the article again. While the victims interviewed for the article were members of faith groups, early on it is expressly stated that it happens among the non-religious as well.

      A lot of evil is done in the name of religion; a lot of good is done as well. The evil gets the headlines. And anti-religionists like you (as your statement goes beyond mere atheism) just love to flaunt the headlines and ignore the rest.

      I note that a great deal of evil has also been perpetrated by those with no religion – including the persecution, torture and murder of those of faith. One really shouldn’t make “those __________ people” statements unless one WANTS to be known as a bigot.

      • “I note that a great deal of evil has also been perpetrated by those with no religion – including the persecution, torture and murder of those of faith”.
        Please give an example. Most persecution of those of faith is perpetuated by those of a different faith. Not quite the same thing.

  3. Over the last 6 months Rachel Browne from Macleans magazine (Canada) has been interviewing me for a story on forced marriages in Canada. As a victim and now survivor of a forced marriage I had a lot to say.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have a rule that enforces marriage. But their repressive rules about sexuality and no dating until ready to marry places many older teens at risk to be pushed into a marriage before they even get to know a person.

    Generally as soon as two people express even mild interest in one another, many parents will push for a marriage even if the two have never gone on a date together.

    My story is a little different in that my mother actually arranged the marriage – the who I would marry, the date and where it would happen. She gave me 5 weeks from the time of her proposal until the wedding.
    Once elders knew that a marriage had been agreed upon there is no backing out unless you want to appear before a Judicial Committee. Engagement is very much considered the equivalent of marriage but still no sex and not living together. The commitment is made and you go through with it or risk discipline.

    During the wedding talk couples are reminded that it is an “obligation” a “duty” and a “responsibility” to provide the “marital due” (sex) when wanted by the spouse. In a caring relationship this might work well. But in an abusive one it allows abusive husbands to demand the “marital due” when it is asked. Sex no longer is an act of love but rather an obligation, a chore like washing the toilet. I appreciate the line in the movie “The Color Purple” when Celie says her husband was “doing his business” on her. It is exactly how I felt.

    I should say that I believe my ex-husband was just as much a victim of my mother that I was. He had no idea when he came to our house that day that he would be engaged and that he would have to get baptized in 4 weeks to become a full-fledged Witness and that the following week he would be married. My mother used whatever he feelings he had for me to get in the way of common sense. I didn’t have that choice. He would not have gotten beaten if he said no.

    • Sad when Jehovah’s Witnesses practice of shunning any member who decides to leave when they discover they had been misled, the family treats them as DEAD, actually the whole organization treats such persons that way. It is depriving citizens and family members of their god given rights of freedom of speech, religion, etc. Very cruel practice. It has to be an evil religion. Early marriage is encouraged to avoid immorality. They are usually married safely off to church members by 18. They can marry only in the membership………….all outsiders are agents of the Devil according to them unless they become JWs.

      • There was certainly the risk that if I decided to call it off not only would my mother be angry but the elders would have had a real good talk with me. I had told no one that my mother set this up. So I doubt I would have told the elders. And if they didn’t like what I said they would have disfellowshipped me and I would be shunned – again losing my whole family.

        It is a fear tactic used to control people and it works very effectively. No one wants a shepherding call from a couple of elders.

        I had turned 18 just 2 weeks before she made this proposal. But she had been dressing me up and parading me all over the place looking for a husband for me. And there were many young people in our congregation who had to get a parent’s signature to get married because they were under 18.

      • Lies & Rubbish coming from Dee Refuse .. Tell the truth ,it feels good .

    • Almost everything in this comment is wrong. “Generally as soon as two people express even mild interest in one another, many parents will push for a marriage even if the two have never gone on a date together.” Untrue. I have been a JW for many years and I can tell you that I’ve never met a couple who rushed/pressured their child to get married. “Once elders knew that a marriage had been agreed upon there is no backing out unless you want to appear before a Judicial Committee..” Untrue. “Engagement is very much considered the equivalent of marriage but still no sex and not living together.” Untrue. “He had no idea when he came to our house that day that he would be engaged and that he would have to get baptized in 4 weeks to become a full-fledged Witness and that the following week he would be married.” I have never heard of an arranged marriage in any congregation (unless this happened in India, or some other country where arranged marriages are culturally acceptable) and no one can just ‘get baptized’ unless they have already been studying for some time because they want to be a JW (by some time I mean six months to a year).

  4. Although I wasn’t forced to marry my Jehovah’s Witness husband, there was a lot of pressure from the church elders to get married young lest any hanky lanky happen and to only marry within the religion. These kinds of marriages seldom last (nearly all my Jehovah’s Witness friends are divorced), but when they end, many times one spouse is declared the guilty one and they are disfellowshipped, as I was. I was then shunned by all, slandered in the worst way and lost all my friends and my community. The only good thing to come of it was that it got me out of that cult.

    • Elders never encourage people to marry young. The opposite is true – they are encouraged to wait until they are mature enough to make level-headed decisions. Marrying at 18 would always be discouraged. But I’m sure you know that, Susan.

  5. Enormous pressure is put on young Jehovah’s Witnesses to marry early. I was 18. Just before the wedding I changed my mind, but the pressure from family and the congregation and the shame of changing your mind and disappointing everyone, made me go through with it. It was not about being free to choose and love. It is a requirement to obey and a mechanism for control. Some young people hide away in full time preaching and that is seen as acceptable. Women are required to be subservient. Careers and higher education is looked upon in disdain. The Watchtower Society perpetuates this patriarchal culture, that denies freedom and choice. Their denial is meaningless.

  6. Rachel Browne, you should vet your stories and sources better.

  7. This is an interesting article, although I also find the author’s tagline to be quite interesting, too. Rachel Browne describes herself as “having no religious beliefs of her own,” but is, “fascinated by those who do.” Why was it felt necessary to include this information? It’s as though she’s saying she’s above the people she’s writing about. It would be like someone saying: “Although I’m a practicing Christian, I’m quite intrigued by non-believers.” Are her beliefs on religion really pertinent to the job of writing on the topic? Or maybe this is an example of disclosing any possible bias?

  8. those practicing spiritism and idolaters and all the LIARS, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.

  9. I am the ex-husband that Mrs. Marsh is talking about. I do not fully know nor can I fully grasp all the pain and suffering she went through and still going through. No one can! That Mrs. Marsh was a victim of sexual abuse cannot be denied. Still: 1971? Facts are facts and if a reporter like Rachel Browne and a Truth-teller like Mrs. Marsh and a respectable magazine like Maclean’s can’t even get the year right, might it be that some of the other statements are also inaccurate? Did anyone bother to check any of her statements that are easily verifiable and ascertain that they are true? Was anyone else interviewed to see if Mrs. Marsh’s statements were accurate and factual? Is this story supposed to be fiction or a true story? It seems to me that Mrs. Marsh‘s ego was hurt because she did not get her way and now she is on a revenge trip against her family and Jehovah’s Witnesses, all the people that loved her. She doesn’t seem to care who she hurts but does she have to do it untruths and fabrications? Does Maclean’s print anything that anyone says or do they make sure that they print the truth and the facts?

    • There are a couple of errors like the year – it was 1970. And I did see you more than once but only to preach to you. We were not friends. We had no relationship other than me trying to teach you what the Witnesses believe.

      When you came to my house that day you had no idea you would be going home engaged or that you would have to become a Witness in 4 weeks or that you would be married the following week. We didn’t even decide when the wedding would be. I suggested the following year and she said no. So I suggested we elope and she said no to that too and she told us when the wedding would be – 5 weeks because you had to be baptized first. My mother issued ultimatums and orders. And I obeyed and you agreed. We even sat down and I told you about the abuse and that it might cause problems. AND you said you knew I didn’t have feelings for you but you hoped in time I would. That was the first real conversation we had together and it happened after my mother got us to agreed to her insane plan. We had never been on a date, I had not met your family. I knew almost nothing about you.

      The truth is I didn’t want to marry you. But we got two beautiful kids from it so that was the positive in it for me. It is time for the secrets to come out and the real truth to be told.

      This isn’t the place to argue about this so let’s leave it at that.

      • Thank you for speaking up, trutha2z. My comment earlier also addressed the lack of fact-checking on this story with the author. I was hoping her tech team would pull my email address and reach out to me privately but here goes…

        My issues in particular;

        How was this story vetted? “Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada would not directly answer questions regarding Marsh’s claims,” but were any other relevant parties interviewed?

        “Marsh’s mother had rejected all the suitors up to that day in 1971 when she announced the match.” Documents show this marriage took place August 7, 1970 which throws the whole timeline into question. “for 15 years, endured…”, “In 1984, Marsh decided to leave.”

        “Shortly after Marsh sent that letter to her church, the elders “dis-fellowshipped” her and announced it to the congregation;” for writing a letter?

        Also, “her husband bribed her children to stay with him”, really?

        Facts about this story have been distorted to elicit a certain emotional response. I call bullshit.

      • I’m sorry: but I came to your house for months and spent many hours there, we went on dates (outings with friends, skating, park), we spent a lot of time together, you told me that you loved me even in the Eskimo language, we were in love, you chased me, you came to where I worked alone, you were afraid that I would leave you before we married. The wedding pictures are not of a person that was trying to get away and I have kept all the ones that you gave me. If you were acting then you deserve two academy awards. We had a pretty happy marriage. Yes, I was a horny young man and I enjoyed having sex. Yes, I didn’t grasp the depth of your previous abuse. Yes, I wasn’t what you dreamed of. Yes, I worked hard to love and care for you and the children. Yes, I wasn’t a perfect husband and father but ask the children of their assessment of the kind of person I was and I am and they are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yes, I wasn’t all that you wanted but were any of the other men that you went with? Perfection doesn’t exist in this world. Abuse and unhappiness exists in every religion and even in the non-religious. There are two sides to every story. You have been telling your version all over the internet for years.

    • Thanks, trutha2z. We’ve corrected the year to 1970.

      • I am glad this story was told. If you asked me today when I was married to my ex I would not remember the year as it 74, 73? We got married just before Armageddon was due to happen in 1975. My ex to this day is a JW and does not speak to our daughter because she stopped being a witness at aged 14. It is madness upon madness, abuse upon abuse. My mother shuns me because she chooses her beliefs over family. Trying to muddy the facts with saying a year is wrong does not get away from the continuing abuse of JW’s break up of families and that they show no real love. On top of that fact is the fact that enormous pressure is put on kids to conform. My sister’s elder husband kicked out their son at 18 because he did not want to be a JW. My ex kicked out our son because he fell in love with a non-jw girl. The abuse is rampant and to deny it is futile. JW’s use coercion on their kids by removing love and the threat of family contact. Kids get baptised to please their JW parents, they also marry the first person who gives them attention and to please the family – especially girls who are raised as pleasers from the get go. They are not allowed to explore their feelings – under threat of disdain – or more to the point their god and those who worship their god would not approve. This is not freedom.

        • My point is that they are many errors in her story and that the author only interviewed Mrs. Marsh and even got some of the things said by Mrs. Marsh wrong. I do not recall any bribing. I asked both children about the bribe and they do not recall any bribing. The fact is that she left me and the children as she needed to find herself. If I was such a horrible monster then why did she leave me with the children? There are two sides to every story.

  10. The truth is

    If it wasn’t for Jehovah’s Witnesses
    Your father would still have abused you.
    You would never have met me
    And I would not have hurt you like I’ve done.
    You would never have had the children that you have.
    You would never have had the grandchildren that you love.

    If I could go back and change things,
    I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t.
    I’ve had many joys in my life
    And you are one of them.
    Whether you believe me or not:
    I’m sorry for all I’ve done that hurt you and anyone else,
    I am what I’ve done: the good, the bad and the ugly.

    Take it as you wish but my advice to you and everyone else is:
    Don’t focus on the bad, as it will only continue to hurt you.
    Focus on the good and allow everything to make you better.

    I wish you all well!

  11. This is a well written article on a subject I knew very little about. Reading it gave me goosebumps. Kudos to the author for the courage to write it. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for these women to step forward and put a face on this issue. The story has the ring of truth to it, otherwise there would be no need to pass laws banning the practice. I didn’t know the practice happens in countries like Canada and the U.K.

    Interesting too, to read the comments critical of the author, as well as the victims from what appears to be religious zealots. Instead of attacking victims of what strikes me as abhorrent abuse, one would have hoped they would show the victims some of the love Christianity preaches. One would hope they would want to reach out and try to make things right toward someone they hurt rather than post comments trying to justify themselves. Frankly their comments are somewhat creepy and only reinforce what this article is about. Reminds me of something Walt Whitman once said: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.”

    Thanks for the article. Thumbs up. Good job.

    • I am Lee’s youngest daughter. I know the history and understand the context. I know what has been added and left out. While I know my mother suffered pressure and abuse, what is creepy is hearing your whole life that the act of your creation was equivalent to having your dad “doing his business” on her (see previous replies). For the record, I am not a JW. They do not baptize babies and I was permitted to choose my own path.

      My mother has posted over 14,000 times on an anti-witness site. She has an agenda and jumped on this angle to have her story heard for her own crusade.

      Forced marriage is a serious issue and I feel badly for the other victims. Unfortunately, some of the information published was incomplete and incorrect and the message has been impacted. The 6 months of interviewing should have been more diligent.

    • In our marriage, the question, if looked at the facts fairly, might be: who was the victim or victims? There are two sides to every story.

  12. 12 “In many lands, it is customary for parents to choose a mate for their child. It is widely agreed in those cultures that parents have the greater wisdom and experience needed to make such an important choice. Arranged marriages often work out well, as they did in Bible times. The example of Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for Isaac is instructive to parents who may be in a similar position today. Money and social standing were not Abraham’s concern. Rather, he went to great lengths to find a wife for Isaac among people who worshipped Jehovah”.*—Genesis 24:3, 67.

    “Keep Yourselves in God’s Love” (2014), page 115, parragraph 12. (Jehovah’s Witnesses publication)

  13. Juan Thank you very much for posting that paragraph from a Watchtower publication that all Jehovah’s Witnesses MUST study both individually and as a congregation. It is exactly the kind of thing that would have made my mother believe she was right in arranging this marriage. It is exactly the kind of thing any Witness parent would use to would use to unduly influence their child to marry another Witness.

    The UK’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) have outlined the following reasons why people coerce others into matrimony:

    To control unwanted behavior and sexuality, and prevent ‘unsuitable’ relationships, i.e. with people outside their ethnic, cultural, caste or religious group — Absolutely yes, to keep the young in the congregations and prevent even tame sexual interactions like holding hands which could lead to immorality like kissing and touching and on to having premarital sex

    To protect perceived cultural or religious ideals obviously yes
    Family ‘honor’ or long-standing family commitments — Yes, for reputation or social standing among Witnesses

    Peer group or family pressure — yes This definitely exists in many Witness social circles and obviously their culture encourages pressuring others to comply with the accepted social behavior. It might not be written policy but ti is an unwritten custom

    To ensure land, property and wealth remain in the family — Not much of an issue among Witnesses

    To strengthen family links — yes, A marriage between 2 families strengthens social standing among Witnesses. Marrying an Ministerial Servant or elder , my family’s position would have been elevated in the eyes of other Witnesses

    To assist claims for residence and citizenship — Like any group there is a possibility for this to happen

    To provide a career for a disabled family member / reduce the ‘stigma’ of disability — I don’t think so

    I truly respect the other women who have come forward to tell their stories. It isn’t easy to talk about these issues, these forms of abuse. I found it hard to do. So why do we do it? I do it because it is a story that needs to be told. It is a practice that needs to be stopped. I do it in the hopes that some young couple who is being pressured realizes they have a choice, a choice I did not have; did not know I had.

    Part of a wedding ceremony includes a declaration of intent. It asks if the couple comes freely or willingly with the intent to marry. I wasn’t free to make that choice. In fact the pressure placed on me could have invalidated the marriage altogether providing a possible cause for an annulment.

    I want other young people they have a right to determine who they will spend their life with. Parents don’t always get it right. They often have interests other than what is best for their child as shown in the stores here.

    Thirty years ago I started to speak out about child sexual abuse. Not many people were doing it. Over the years I have had countless woman and men tell me how much they appreciated my willingness to come forward. It gave them hope. As was pointed out I was sexually abused by my father and that had nothing to do with the Witnesses. However I was also sexually abused by my sister’s father and that was while we were associated with the Witnesses and it was cover up. I don’t speak out for revenge. For me, speaking out about abuse includes all of it. I do it to shed light on terrible problems in our society and among Jehovah’s Witnesses. That included abuse both as a young child and right up until the day I left my mother’s home.

    If you are a young person and you believe you are being forced, coerced, or simply told who you will marry I want you to know you do have choices. Saying no is possible especially if you are a minor in Canada. We need laws to prevent this practice and then it won’t matter what the age of consent was. If you are a minor you can pick up your telephone book and look at the first couple of pages. There are crisis numbers you can call for support and for the help you need and the freedom to determine who you will or won’t marry.

  14. Jehovah’s Witness like all other religions are cults. Pray at but ban organized religion. Places of worship should be made into something useful like homeless shelters.

  15. I have always looked to MacLeans magazine for facts and was highly disappointed to see such nonsense written regarding Jehovahs Witnesses. This is a complete fabrication of information and against all the Witnesses stand for. They do not now nor have they ever ‘arranged marriages’ and anyone that says they do is not telling you the truth. Was this particular person in an arranged marriage by family members who themselves arranged it? Maybe. But it had nothing to do with anyone at the Kingdom Hall or the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. No such situation exists between any man or woman who is a JW. They may chose another JW, just like a Catholic will choose a Catholic or a Jew another Jew and occationally a Witness will marry someone who is not a Witness with no consequences unless their conduct during the courtship was dishonourable and only for the dishonourable conduct will they receive councel and scriptural help I used to think that your reporters covered the facts but I see now you do not research your material or the truth. Shame on you. I expected more.

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