My name is Aminata and my country of origin is Liberia. An African woman is raised to honor and obey your husband at all times. Women do not have a voice or any choices. Since our country is so poor, marriages are arranged for the benefit of the whole family. Parents usually choose a husband for you but on occasion a woman who encounters an eligible man can present him to her family for marriage approval, as it was in my case. My family approved of my husband because he lived in America and because of that it was assumed that he had financial stability. A husband who lived in America or is an American citizen is an automatic opportunity for a better life for the whole family. My husband and I married in Africa in the traditional way in 1988. He brought me to Canada in 1990. From Canada, we immigrated to America in 1994. Since our marriage began, my husband has been physically, emotionally, verbally, and sexually abusive. He financially exploited me as well. I worked extremely hard for our business, but he kept all the money and left me with all the bills and bad credit. In 2003, I found out that he ruined my credit when I attempted to get my own cell phone. The customer service representative informed me that I had bad credit, and I was denied service unless I got a co-signer. I sent for my credit report and was shocked to find that my husband had not paid any bills for the business, utilities or hospital bills. To my surprise he’d put these bills in my name, without my knowledge, leaving me responsible for this financial burden I now carry.
For an African woman or any woman in America who comes from a foreign land, life in America is not an easy transition. The culture and traditions are not the same but you are expected to continue the traditions from your land. For example, in my country if a woman is married and is in a domestic violence situation, she is not allowed to divorce even though she is being abused. The custom is to work it out no matter what with the families help and direction. If a woman still refuses to stay in the marriage, this could cause grounds for her father to leave her mother which is a punishment of great shame to the family. Most women, especially I, wouldn’t want to put my mother through that suffering so I stayed in my abusive marriage for 18 years. In those eighteen years of marriage, my husband forced me to have sexual relations because he thought it was his right. In America this behavior is defined as rape or sexual assault but in Africa it is not defined. To even speak of it is considered madness. Now I know that my body is my own and I have a right to say “yes” or “no” to sex.
Eighteen years of pain and tears but no longer. I have taken control of my life back. I have a beautiful daughter that I want to set a good example for and let her know that she and I deserve the happiness of the American Dream. With the help of Vera House, I got an order of protection against my husband and custody of my daughter. My uphill battle is not over though. My husband warned that if I did not stay with him and do as he said, he would have me deported. For years, he had threatened and controlled me with this. I finally had enough and said no to him and left him. As a result, a few weeks ago my husband withdrew his petition for my permanent residency in an effort to punish me. So although this circumstance is a difficult one, I will fight to the end to stay in America and raise my daughter here with every opportunity she can have. Through all of this, I have not given up and never will. I don’t care how many millions of dollars he has or whether he controls the whole world, I will never go back to him, ever. I want to tell women, all women, that if they are in an abusive relationship, there is help and hope. Find the courage to leave and take control of your life back. I did and you can too.