I need help tracking down my friend
June 20, 2006 9:00 PM   Subscribe

My friend was forced into an arranged marriage. I've lost contact with her and now I am trying to find her. Any suggestions for how I should go about doing that?
posted by haasim to Human Relations (27 answers total)
The "kidnapped" tag makes me think there's more to this story than you're letting on. What information do you have? Just a maiden name? Can you ask her parents about it? Can you you narrow down where to look (state? country?).
posted by danb at 9:10 PM on June 20, 2006

Well it's a long story. Basically my friend was lured to Pakistan under the guise of a family vacation, and she was held against her will until her family married her off. This was six years ago. Last year she came back to Canada alone for an operation. We reconnected and she told me her story. She contemplated staying in Canada and leaving her husband, but she had mixed feeling about him. She went back to Pakistan, determined to get her husband to move to Canada so she could go to university and start a career.

I got an email from her this spring saying she was back in Toronto. But it wasn't her. The words weren't her own. And I haven't heard from her since. I tried calling the phone number given in the email, but I always got a man who mumbled, "she is at work", followed by abruptly hanging up the phone. I tried calling at all different times of the day, but she was never home.

Someone has hijacked her email account. There is no other explanation. She has supposedly been in city since April, but she hasn't had the time to call me? The same person who: had her mail sent to my address, gave me her diary, and offered to give me access to her bank account?

Something is seriously wrong. And I can’t go to her parents because they are part of the problem. I don’t know who to go to.
posted by haasim at 9:29 PM on June 20, 2006

Is she a Canadian citizen?
posted by acoutu at 9:36 PM on June 20, 2006

Be very careful about how you communicate with her, because you could quite easily get her killed for an imaginary "honor crime".
posted by evariste at 9:41 PM on June 20, 2006

I'm thinking that also, Evariste.
Do you have a highly respectable female friend (an friendly prof perhaps?) who could call her parents?
posted by Methylviolet at 9:54 PM on June 20, 2006

Yeah, she's a Canadian citizen. But I didn't know about "honor crimes" until you mentioned it, evariste. Thanks for the caution. I have spoken to some of my respected female friends, but they don't really have any suggestions.

I'm trying to find out if there is some sort of local or international organization that would be able to help.
posted by haasim at 10:06 PM on June 20, 2006

The Canadian equivalent of a "state department" (foreign ministry? I dunno) might be interested in the unfortunate fate of one of its citizens...
posted by evariste at 10:33 PM on June 20, 2006

The Canadian equivalent of a "state department" (foreign ministry? I dunno) might be interested in the unfortunate fate of one of its citizens...

There is, but it is in no way equivalent to the US one - they offer only the most minimal services to expatriates and would only intervene in the most extreme circumstances - I think they facilitated some negotiations when a Canadian Aid worker was kidnapped in Iraq (an American kidnapped at the same time was murdered) but really they cannot be counted on for anything.

That said, the government has changed, the Conservatives might make this more of a priority.
posted by Deep Dish at 10:40 PM on June 20, 2006

I have to say, you're jumping to a lot of conclusions.

What does this mean?

"I got an email from her this spring saying she was back in Toronto. But it wasn't her. The words weren't her own."

And this:

"Someone has hijacked her email account. There is no other explanation."

why is there no other explanation? And what motive do you think this "somone" has for sending email in her name?

It's as if you think the "I'm back" email was some kind of trick. Is that it?

On the face of it, as an unconcerned observer, there's no particular mystery about any of this. But you're writing some kind of movie script in your head about it because of your extreme concern for this person.

If you have a phone number and you think it's really her phone number, then you could hire a private detective to track down her location from that number and observe the place, take photos etc. It won't be cheap, but it's less likely to endanger her in some way than trying to do it yourself as an amateur.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 10:43 PM on June 20, 2006

AmbroseChapel-with all due respect, I would trust haasim's instincts on this. As someone of Middle Eastern ancestry whose own dad sent bizarre emails out of the blue pretending* to be my sister who was interested in reconciliation, you have no idea how fucked up and psychotic people from that part of the world can be. It's entirely plausible that haasim's friend is being impersonated by someone who wishes her (or haasim) ill.
posted by evariste at 10:49 PM on June 20, 2006

In the US, it's often pretty simple to find a (landline) phone number's associated address via an online service or the local printed city directory (often available at the local public library). It seems likely this would work similarly in Canada. Knowing where the calls are coming from could be helpful.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:02 PM on June 20, 2006

Hey, evariste, I'm not denying the fact that this could be happening at all. I totally trust your instincts on the matter and I agree it could be very serious.

I'm just asking for the full story -- or rather, the full imagined story according to haasim.

She's in Pakistan. She and her husband come back to Canada. Her husband writes an email in her name saying "I'm back" ... because?

Up to that point haasim didn't know she was back. Why would the husband do that? And, come to think of it, did haasim write back and if so what did he say?

I'm also just saying "chill out, calm down for a while".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 11:57 PM on June 20, 2006

Call the police?
posted by delmoi at 12:24 AM on June 21, 2006

Forced marriage is a serious and common issue. I'd be surprised if your government doesn't have a department that deals with this. Get in touch with your foreign office and see what they say. If all fails or you can't find the correct department, phone the Brits and ask them if they know who their Canadian equivalent is. +44 20 7008 0151. The British FCO has a huge amount of experience in this area. I know they probably can't help you, but they may be able to point you towards resources that can.
posted by seanyboy at 12:31 AM on June 21, 2006

Better people to contact may be Amnesty Canada. They may be able to give you advice on this issue.
posted by seanyboy at 12:37 AM on June 21, 2006

You could also try looking at the UK NHS's website www.forcedmarriage.nhs.uk/ for further suggestions, they may be able to point you towards an NGO which is involved. I read a story a while back about a UK based charity which works with the British embassy in Pakistan to return people. Again, as seanyboy says the UK foreign office has a lot of expertise, and also has a dedicated unit in Pakistan, but I am not sure if they will be able to intervene if she's canadian, bit I'd contact the number on their website. If you are in a major city with a large Pakistani population it may be worth looking in the phone book for support organisations, or any citizens advice centres who might be able to point you towards the right people.
posted by MrC at 3:59 AM on June 21, 2006

Contact details for the UK Forced Marriage unit- you could just try emailing them-
Foreign Office, Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) - normal rates apply 020 7008 0135 or 020 7008 0230 Mon-Fri 9am-5pm or 020 7008 1500 (at all other times)

The FMU offers confidential information and helps anyone in the UK that is scared they may be forced into a marriage. The FMU team can also help people in the UK forced overseas to marry.

Forced Marriage Unit (FMU)
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Room G/55
Old Admiralty Building
Email fmu@fco.gov.uk
posted by MrC at 4:02 AM on June 21, 2006

Here's a list of Canadian and Ontario Womens Rights groups which appears to be on a University of Toronto website. If you're a student, I imagine your school/college might have a department or office who can provide similar information. If I were you I would give them a call and see what advice they offer.
posted by jamesonandwater at 4:42 AM on June 21, 2006

I've got to agree with Ambrose, I find it odd that they would bother impersonating the girl to say that she was back in Toronto. My only theory would be that they believed he would focus on Toronto, versus focusing on Pakistan on finding/contacting her. Same would go with the phone number, ask relative/friend to play the answering machine about her being at work, and keep everything focused on Toronto.

I would surmise that she's still in Pakistan and pretty much out of reach for the poster.
posted by Atreides at 5:12 AM on June 21, 2006

Thanks for all of the suggestions so far.

I've already used a reverse directory to get an address. The address is a townhouse. But I'm not sure there is anything else I can do with this info for now.

I don't really see how I could chill out, AmbroseChapel. I'm not going berserk or anything. But, I think I'm justifiably concerned about my friend who has not responded to any of my calls or emails in the past 2 months.
posted by haasim at 5:15 AM on June 21, 2006

Canada's status as a Commonwealth country might make your discussions with the UK organizations go differently than a "non-citizen" would have. She is a citizen of the Commonwealth. It can't hurt to mention that if you do decide to talk with anyone. Remember though, that Pakistan is also a Commonwealth country.

Be very aware of the cautions you are getting here. I've known my fair share of folks from the region and the stories are interesting to say the least. She is likely concerned about the safety of her family/friends were she to break off or away from the marriage. There is some precedence to work off of though.

The PI route would also establish "definites" that would greatly help people in deciding on how to proceed with this. Something to consider, especially since you have the address. Don't do this on your own, please. For all you know they've gone through her pictures and know what you look like.
posted by jwells at 5:20 AM on June 21, 2006

I would also be careful of her privacy. You said she has ambivalent feelings about the marriage and her relationship - sounds to me like she wouldn't want her story to become some big forced marriage campaign. Whether her mixed feelings are some sort of indoctrination or not, she still most likely wants privacy. So I would keep your investigations, and your concerns, basically to yourself. Even if you do contact other resources, I would keep her name out of it.

Since you have the address, you could ask a friend to snoop around. I don't suppose you know what the husband looks like, do you? Is there a concierge - maybe someone could ask for her. A female friend might be good at this job, given the risk of endangering your friend by any suggestion that she's involved with a man.

Could you think of something creative to do using the mail? Even something as simple as sending a letter might work - could be returned to sender. (Maybe, again, use a friend's address.) I do agree, you want to be careful not to get her into any trouble with the family, though.
posted by Amizu at 6:43 AM on June 21, 2006

You should try two things:

1) look up the phone number in a reverse phone directory online and find the address from which it came, and

2) have a male friend of yours give the number a call. apparently, these people don't have much respect for women, so it's not too surprising that they kept hanging up on you.
posted by alon at 7:18 AM on June 21, 2006

alona, haasim is male. It could be that the friend actually is in the country and is being denied contact from anyone outside her husband.
posted by mikeh at 7:24 AM on June 21, 2006

Well, you have two leads: the phone number and the email address. Your first priority is to tie an address to the phone number. There are various ways to do this, some legal and some not, but it can be done. It all depends on how far you're willing to go. Once you have an address on the phone number you'll need to stake it out and come up with a 'cast list'. Each person who enters/exits the address becomes a new lead and will have to be investigated. If you can find Mr. 'She's at work'--perhaps by voice analysis or getting a visual on the phone and then calling to confirm who answers--that'll be a big breakthrough. He certainly knows something. Eventually you may want to enter the address and see what other evidence you can rustle up. As for the email address, you can usually lure people out with money. You might try floating out an offer something along the lines like 'I'm glad you're back in Canada, I have saved up a lot of money to help you get on your feet' ... you'll have to be more subtle about it but the goal is to get them thinking that you have some thousands that you want to give her but you need to meet with them.

Anyways, this is a dark and dangerous world. The kind of people who kidnap their own family members tend to be very possessive and paranoid. They can be dangerous. Unless you're willing to really confront these people (and this may mean breaking Canadian laws), you might be better off just trying to get the world out. Start a web site. Place some ads in the newspaper. Report her missing to the police. Notify all the various human rights organization. Your only hope is that if you complain long enough and loud enough then somebody else will sit up and take notice.
posted by nixerman at 8:17 AM on June 21, 2006

I started a blog to journal my efforts, but then after reading some of the feedback here, I took it offline. I guess I'll see what happens when I try contacting some of those NGOs suggested to me. If I don't get far, I guess I'll consider bringing the site back.
posted by haasim at 10:10 AM on June 21, 2006

After six years, might children and the custody of them be the reason she's not ready to leave the marriage?

If you're going to call again, having a female friend do it sounds like the best idea to me. If you've got a guy saying "Not here" and hanging up on you, it sounds like the sort of person who's going to go out of his way to be unhelpful whenever you (whose voice he knows) call. You'd just want to have some sort of back-story for the woman who does the calling. Maybe having her say she is Mrs. SoAndSo (whatever the name was), your friends old guidance counselor from high school—just calling 'cause she heard she was back in town. The name would be confirmable and might lend an air of someone of authority checking in with her. Someone Mr. Hangup might think twice about hanging up on.
posted by blueberry at 2:17 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

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