EDITOR’S NOTE: The person’s name in this story has been changed to protect their identity.
Khadija, who did not wish to give her real name, didn’t fit the image many have of a woman in Pakistan, her native country. She worked, she helped support her family, and she married at a later age.
She feels that this helped her to take “bold steps” later in life when her marriage became one full of abuse.
“I was the only one in my family who worked, so I was kind of the rebellious child…,” Khadija said, adding that she liked to work and that working was not an option for most women.
At 18 years of age, Khadija began working to help her family financially since her father was going through a “crisis.” Since this was not acceptable in her country, her help was hidden.
Although many people in Khadija’s family wed when they were 18 to 21, some married as young as 13 or 15. Khadija didn’t marry until she was 26. At that point, she said “it was like an old woman getting married.”
It was an arranged marriage. Because of working and living abroad, the couple did not start to actually live together until about three or four years after getting married.
“In the beginning, he was not that bad,” said Khadija, who has been residing in Queens for about six years.
Khadija was working for an airline and was assigned to flights to America, so she had been living in the United States for close to 17 years. After having her children, she continued to work. She said that her husband wanted financial help so he wanted her to work.
Khadija said that she always thought he was a nice guy who worked hard. But, the more time he spent outside of their home, the less money he would bring back. She said he would be gone most of the day except when he needed to sleep.
He would swear he was working hard to provide a good life for the family. Because of how well he lied, she said there were times she would question who was lying – him or her.
“You start doubting yourself because his story would be so perfect,” she said.
For instance, he would tell Khadija that whatever money he made he gave to her. He would then say that he didn’t know what she was doing with the money.
Khadija eventually decided to resign from her job to take care of the children since she said he was not taking proper care of them.
As the marriage continued, she said “he would start cursing and became more and more abusive.”
She found out that he had other girlfriends. He started to isolate her, would not take her places and was hesitant to introduce her to others. He would also put her down, saying she didn’t dress nice, was not pretty and that he had married a prostitute. He said he had applied for her immigration but would not answer her questions about it.
“I was so miserable I started being very depressed,” Khadija said.
Khadija said she also realized she did not know very much about the man she called her husband, including his immigration status.
Her husband would borrow money from other people and spend it. He used Khadija’s credit to get a car, but would then not make the payments on it, eventually leaving it for her to deal with.
“I was married to him [for] 17 years, and there’s nothing I know about him,” she said.
The more she found out, the more aggressive he would get, she said. He started hitting her and screaming at her. She said he also eventually started hitting the children.
“My children used to see all this,” Khadija said. “I didn’t know how to get out of the situation because I had already resigned [from work].”
Intervention finally came when one of Khadija’s children went to school and told someone about the abuse at home. Then, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) started coming to the house, and eventually removed her husband from their home in 2008.
There was one morning when things took a violent turn and Khadija’s husband broke the phone to prevent the children from calling the police. One child, who was only about six at the time, agreed to go school so that he could report the incident once he arrived.
“It doesn’t happen that he’s out and the family becomes normal,” Khadija said. “There’s so much left over.”
Even once the district attorney’s office had the case, Khadija told the person there she wasn’t ready to fight and that she would give her marriage a chance.
“When things are out of hand, you live in hope,” she said.
For about the last two years, Khadija has been working on putting her life back together. Through the Family Justice Center in Queens, she received help with her immigration paperwork, meeting basic needs, getting clothing, public assistance trouble shooting, housing search and assistance, and child care support resources. She also attended employment and education workshops and had her resume reviewed.
Along with taking care of her children, Khadija works and is attending school to earn another degree. She said she still feels overwhelmed at times.
“In the beginning, I was so low because I didn’t know what to look forward to,” she said, adding that now things are not as bad. “Things will change after everything is settled.”
More stories in our series on domestic violence:
THE SILENT SHAME- AN INTRODUCTION TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
DEBUNKING THE MYTHS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE