- DOJ said a woman invited her family to her wedding, but they disapproved and kidnapped her instead.
- A court filing says she was tricked into going to Yemen, assaulted, and threatened by her father.
- Her father and brothers attempted to arrange a forced marriage for her in exchange for $500,000.
“You are no longer in the West, you are in the Middle East, women like you are killed,” Khaled Abughanem said to his daughter, according to the Justice Department.
The American woman — who sought to celebrate her wedding in Mexico — invited her family to the ceremony in Guadalajara last September. Instead, her disapproving father, mother, and brothers conspired to kidnap her in an attempt to force her to marry someone else in Yemen, the Department of Justice alleged in an ongoing case against her father, Khaled, and brother, Waleed.
The unnamed victim, who according to a DOJ statement remains in Yemen “under the supervision of two of her brothers,” was tricked by her family into leaving Mexico and traveling back to the United States, where her father promised he would support her marriage to her fiancé, who she had known for nearly nine years.
Instead, the court filings allege, her family tried to force her fiancé to pay them a dowry of $30,000 for their marriage, but after the woman intervened, her father threatened to throw her from the 12th story of the hotel where they were staying. The next day, the elder Abughanem allegedly changed his mind and came to a “gentleman’s agreement” with his daughter’s fiancé and agreed to support their union — if he could host a party and the ceremony in the United States.
The woman agreed.
Upon her return to the States, she was locked in her family’s home, put under constant supervision, and unable to even use the restroom with privacy. A member of her family then impersonated the woman, withdrawing her from classes at the University of Buffalo, and deleting her social media accounts. She was then forced to board a flight to Egypt, where her family planned to arrange a marriage to an undetermined man in Egypt or Yemen in exchange for $500,000.
“The Victim was told if she did not comply and agree to an arranged marriage, she would be locked up in her home without contact with the outside world forever and her fiancé, who her family disapproved of, would be killed,” read a DOJ statement regarding the case.
Kidnapping charges are pending against Khaled and Waleed Abughanem, the woman’s father and brother, who are currently in custody. A detention hearing for the pair, scheduled for February 17, has been delayed until March 2.
“Waleed Abughanem denies any allegation of criminal conduct or wrongdoing whatsoever,” Buffalo News reported Frank Passafiume, an assistant federal public defender, said of the charges against his client. “Beginning at the hearing next week, we will vindicate his name and undo the damage all too often caused by government overreach into our personal lives and disregard of cultural diversity.”
Representatives for the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York, as well as lawyers for Khaled and Waleed Abughanem did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment. It is unclear whether the woman’s mother will face charges for her involvement in her daughter’s detainment in Yemen.
‘My biggest mistake was to keep you alive’
The difference between an arranged marriage — a common cultural practice in nations including India, Japan, and China — and a forced marriage is supposed to be the difference between consent and coercion, according to the nonprofit organization Unchained At Last, which seeks to end forced and child marriage in the United States.
Both a bride and groom may consent to have their marriage arranged due to cultural factors, but a forced marriage may be the result of a victim being deceived, threatened, or abused until they comply.
“However, there’s a fine line between consent and coercion,” according to Unchained At Last. “Even when a marriage is labeled “arranged” and the bride and groom get the option to say no, they might face intense pressure from their families and society not to do so, or they might be too young and inexperienced to make such a life-altering decision.”
Few studies have been conducted regarding forced marriage abuse in the US, so exact statistics regarding how many people are illegally betrothed is unknown.
In forced marriages, honor and virginity are often of central importance to families arranging the union. A woman who is not a virgin is seen as bringing dishonor to her family and may be killed to restore their honor, according to The Arab Weekly.
The woman being held in Yemen may have been subjected to a virginity test, conducted by her mother, according to court documents.
“Abu-Walid, that would bring shame to me . . . she is my sister,” the younger Abughanem texted his father, according to court documents. “And I would not allow anyone to undermine our honor . . . that would be over my dead body.”
The United Nations Population Fund estimates that as many as 5,000 women are killed annually around the world for reasons of honor.
The woman is still currently held in Yemen but is receiving support through an unnamed nonprofit, according to court documents. She was allegedly pushed down stairs, whipped with a belt, and choked by her father so severely she thought she would be killed, according to a filing that referenced US Customs records, testimony by the woman’s fiancé, text messages between Khaled and Waleed Abughanem, and secret emails sent by the woman herself.
“Victim 1 believes she only survived the assault due to the intervention of her mother,” the court filing reads, as her father allegedly told her: “I should’ve killed you before I left Yemen, you bitch, my biggest mistake was to keep you alive.”
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