Tahirih Justice Center

Tahirih Justice Center is a national, non-profit organization that supports the courage of immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence by providing holistic legal services and advocacy in communities, courts, and Congress. Working to create a world where women and girls can live in safety and with dignity, Tahirih protects women and girls seeking protection from gender-based human rights abuses such as domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor crimes, and forced marriage.
Aug 2, 2016

Project Report August 2016

Born into poverty in a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, Maritza* grew up in a community surrounded by violence and corruption. Pervasive organized crime had a vice grip on shop owners, schools, and even the police. Hard working and smart, Maritza worked to help support her family while she attended school to fulfill her dreams of becoming a nurse.

Life wasn’t easy, but she was happy. All that changed in a matter of minutes.

Her nightmare began during lunch with a friend one afternoon. A group of dangerous men entered the diner and sat down with the two girls; worse, her friend seemed to know them. The men quickly became aggressive. Familiar with the tactics gangs use to threaten and extort, Maritza’s instincts kicked in. She quickly removed her phone’s SIM card and destroyed it, preventing the men from finding her family’s contact information.

Moments later, Maritza was forced into a car at gunpoint by their ringleader. He threatened to kill her if she wasn’t quiet. When her “friend” was suddenly released, Maritza knew she had been set up. They drove for seven hours to an isolated home where she was confined to a small room and guarded by an armed man who was told to kill her if she tried to escape.

Her kidnapper raped her every night, threatening to find and punish her family if she struggled. One day, he ordered Maritza’s guard to take her to get her birth certificate so they could arrange for her to “travel.” Her kidnappers were human traffickers. They intended to sell her.

On the way back to the city, Maritza begged the guard to let her go. In a moment of compassion, he dropped her off at a bus station with a dire warning: they’ll kill you if they find you.

Maritza immediately took a bus back to her home city, but arranged to meet her family in a safe place in case she had been followed. Unfortunately, their reunion was brief.

Her family knew that if Maritza was discovered by the traffickers, they would all be killed. She had to leave the country immediately. Still, the decision was not an easy one to make. Her family had very little money and the journey was incredibly dangerous. The idea of being separated, potentially for years, was heartbreaking.

Desperate to protect Maritza, her mother made arrangements for her only daughter to flee to the United States, where she would be cared for by her uncle.

Remarkably, Maritza survived the trip and was eventually reunited with her uncle in Houston. She found her way to Tahirih Justice Center and continued to fight for her safety. With help from Tahirih and its pro bono team, Maritza was granted legal protection in 2016.

Today, she is safe. With the support of her loving uncle and his wife, Maritza is on track to graduate from high school. She plans to fulfill her childhood dream of attending college to become a nurse, and hopes to dedicate her life to helping others.

Maritza is Tahirih Houston’s 5th Annual Gala Courageous Voice Honoree. On September 17, 2016, join us to pay tribute to the courageous women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence. Funds raised at the “A Mother’s Life, A Child’s Future” gala go directly to helping more brave women and girls like Maritza.

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Jun 1, 2016

In Her Words: 'Freedom Is the Most Beautiful Thing'

Watch Adela
Watch Adela's Story

Your support is transforming lives like Adela's. She wanted to share her journey out of domestic violence into a life of freedom with supporters like you. 


I was only 8 years old when I left home. 

We grew up very poor in a rural area of Peru, and I was the youngest of nine brothers and sisters. My father lived far away, and my mother was very violent toward me. One day, she hit me very hard, and I decided to leave. My uncle helped me escape to a bigger city, where I worked as a housekeeper for the next 18 years.

The work was very hard, but I didn’t have any other choice. I did what I had to in order to survive.

During this time, I had a beautiful baby boy. I loved him more than anything in the world. He lived with his father’s family — they were well-off and I wasn’t, but I visited him every chance I had. I got a job as a furniture salesperson to make a better life for me and my son, but I never felt like I earned money to give him the life he deserved. It made me sad, but I didn’t give up hope.

Not long after I started working at the furniture store, I met Luis. He was a local businessman, and he was so charming, friendly, and affectionate. He even promised me he’d help me with my son. We fell in love. Six months later, we moved in together. I finally felt as though things were turning around.

That feeling didn’t last.

Luis became very aggressive and violent. He didn’t want me to visit my son, so I started seeing my son less and less, so as not to anger Luis. Even then, he still found reasons to hit me. It broke my heart.

A few years into our relationship, I became pregnant with Luis’ child. One day, Luis didn’t come home so I went looking for him, and caught him with another woman.

Later that night, he found me crying and beat me so violently in the stomach and head that I lost the baby. He told me that he was in charge, and that I shouldn’t have left the house. I spent several days in the hospital.

Afterward, Luis apologized. He paid my hospital bills, begged me to forgive him, and promised me that things would change. I wanted with all my heart to believe him, so I took him back. When things didn’t get any better, our families got involved. They said we needed to get married. I felt like I had no choice.

After we were married, he began to hit me hard on my head instead of my face, so the bruises wouldn’t show. I couldn’t take it any longer. I escaped to the city where my son was living and found a job so I could be near him. Three months later, Luis tracked me down, grabbed me by the throat in the street, and forced me into a taxi with him.

I threatened to call the cops. He told me he’d kill me and no one would ever know. I was terrified. He forced me to let him move into my apartment.

I’d never been more afraid in my life.

I tried to disappear, but Luis found me. He was furious. He took me to a bridge and threatened to throw me off if I ever tried to escape again. I couldn’t get away from him. I didn’t want to die, and I felt like there was no one in the world who would help me.

There is no justice for women, I thought.

I felt dead. I couldn’t eat. I could hardly sleep. One day he came home drunk and hit my head against the concrete wall so hard that I passed out. I still have trouble hearing out of my right ear. A cousin of mine moved in and tried to protect me, but Luis continued to threaten to kill me.

One day, I went to visit a woman who had known me since childhood. She could tell something was wrong. I broke down and told her everything. She helped me with a plan to escape.

I knew if I wanted to live, I had to leave right away. Leaving my son behind was devastating, but I didn’t have a choice.

After a long and dangerous journey, I finally arrived in the United States, where I turned myself in to immigration to plead my case.

At first it was frightening — I had no family, no friends, and I felt all alone in a strange country. But with the help of Tahirih Justice Center, I applied for asylum. It was a difficult process, but Tahirih was there for me every step of the way. The day we received the decision from the court, I was so nervous. I didn’t know what I would do if my application was rejected.

Then the decision came in — asylum granted! I was so happy. Tahirih had become family to me.

Even though it was an incredible moment, I still missed my son terribly. When I fled my home country, he thought I had abandoned him. Thankfully, we were able to talk online, and I told him how much I loved him and why I had to leave. Over time, we rebuilt our relationship. Eventually I worked up the courage to ask him to join me here in the United States. He said yes, and Tahirih helped me figure out how to bring my son to this country.

When we were reunited at the airport, I was so happy I cried.

Today, things are going better than I could ever have imagined. I have a great job at a salon, and I recently got my construction license to build decks in the summer. My son, who shares my love of learning, wants to earn his degree in engineering.

Most importantly, we are together, and we are safe.

I can’t forget what happened to me. It’s part of my life. But I found the courage to save myself, and I want other women who might be in that position to know that there is always reason to hope.

Once, I was like the walking dead. Now, I live a full life, free of violence. I’m so happy to be alive.


Thank you for helping courageous women like Adela rebuild their lives in safety and with dignity! You can find more success stories on our website.

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Feb 16, 2016

A Child Bride in Texas

Thank you for your incredible support of Tahirih Justice Center’s groundbreaking Forced Marriage Initiative.

Our research on child and forced marriage in the United States is featured in a January Houston Chronicle column about one writer’s personal experience with the human rights violation:

"In the photos, you can see traces of the beauty my mother eventually grew into. The high cheekbones and dark blonde hair are there, but she’s sickly pale. The blue eyes lack the piercing force of personality she’d later develop … She was 14 and awkward. She was being forced to marry a man she had just met.

When we think of child brides, we think of long ago and far away. My mother’s arranged marriage happened in 1970 in Orange, Texas. Not that far away. Not that long ago. While far from commonplace, underage and forced marriage in the United States still occurs."

The Chronicle’s Francisca Ortega discussed the upsurge in the number of women seeking help to escape forced marriage in the United States with our Forced Marriage Initiative Project Manager, Casey Swegman. The Forced Marriage Initiative expects more individuals to come forward as the problem gains recognition as a human rights abuse that violates the right to choose whether, when, and whom to marry, Swegman said.

Read the full article here.

We will keep you updated as this pressing issue develops. Thank you for your continued support of courageous women and girls!

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