■ Extreme spousal torture in the immigrant community is hardly reported for fear of immigration-related issues, but Veronique Fagbeouro’s Marriage nightmare underscores a new dimension in violence against immigrant spouses.
When Sabastine Maduduike quickly, approached an attorney asking to divorce his wife Veronique Fagbeouro sometime in March, he may not have disclosed other troubling information regarding this union. He had actually, secretly called the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), sometime in August, 2011, asking to be excused from a pending appeal for a petition for residency – then came his divorce.
So, why would this man want his wife’s residency jeopardized? Are there other reasons for this divorce besides the typical issue of irreconcilable differences, or would this just be a deliberate attempt to get rid of his wife to cover up severe marital abuse and psychosomatic torture? Mr Maduduike declined answers, and remained inaccessible till press time.
Veronique Fagbeouro known to friends as Nikki is a 50-year-old immigrant from Republic of Benin, who earned a master’s degree from the Institute national D’Economie before coming to the United States of America. Nikki had called our newsroom around 2010 to seek a referral for a very crushing issue about her marriage. She was locked out of her home at the time, and could not reach her husband because according to Nikki, “He doesn’t pick up his phone.” Nikki, at the time, was advised to call the Women Shelter. She was also given a couple of resources for legal and emotional assistance.
Nikki it was gathered, took refuge at her church, the Bread of Life Tabernacle, for three days. This bizarre incident led to the beginning of a media scrutiny of a marriage that yielded more misery than affection. According to Nikki, in a complaint now undergoing a legal process, “When I contacted the International Guardian’s editor about my ordeal, he advised me to see a therapist or a counselor. My husband found out and threatened me, saying ‘I will deport you if you call the newspaper again.”
NIKKI’S marriage to Sabastine was not a “love-at-first-sight” quickie. The process was usual, for according to Nikki, “I met him at a food store on Bissonnet where I use to worked, and we exchanged numbers and started calling each other. I remember that on November I followed him to his swearing-ib for citizenship, and helped him take some pictures for souvenir as he asked me. This was the first time we have ever been close to each other. He was so sweet and gentle.” This mutual friendship prevailed until Nikki accepted Sabastine’s proposal, and both couples got married on December 11, 2009.
After this marriage, the entire situation according to Nikki changed. “My husband told me that he has a secretive life. Whenever I leave the apartment for some errands, he called me several times. If I missed one the calls, he yelled at me and called me names (prostitute, bitch). He isolated me from friends and family. I could only talk to his sibling in Nigeria when he wanted me to. He checked my phone calls every day. He told me what to wear, “ Nikki claimed.
An interview session with Nikki in 2011 revealed a physical evidence of what turned out to be unreported marital torture, servitude, extortion and physical abuse. For instance, a joint account belonging to the couple (ending in 5264) was overdrawn, and moneys either borrowed or obtained out of intimidation totaled about $10,000. Bank documents show two transfers to Sabastine’s account for $1,000, whereas recorded cash obtained over a year period totaled about $9,000. “He asked me not to lend him money anymore through transfers or check, only in cash – so we agreed to record them on paper. We made copies of everything and I gave him a copy,” Nikki said. Another document showed where Sabastine forged his wife’s signature to collect a tax-refund check jointly filed by the couple.
But Sabastine’s attitude towards these allegations raised other concerns. When contacted initially, in 2011, Sabastine neither denied nor agreed to allegations made by his wife, but he arranged to meet with reporters to discuss the situation. Sabastine who never showed up for this interview, avoided calls, and in fact, switched off his phone’s message options. He told this reporter that there were issues with his marriage, but did not elaborate, rather, he requested a meeting twice, but would not answer calls.
Nikki’s testimony, however, sounded stranger than fiction, and may become a focus for legal contention and possible prosecution. For instance, in a testimony, part of documents being processed by a Houston law firm, Waobikeze and Associates, Nikki alleged, “He warned me seriously about sharing my problem with anybody; otherwise he will call the Immigration for me. There was no single day he would not abuse me sexually and verbally. I felt helpless, fragile, demoralized, and insecure. I had sleepless nights every day because I became a sex toy for break between jobs. To avoid wound while my husband was raping me, I applied Vaseline moisturizer in my private part while going to bed. I was thinking that the atmosphere will get better and at the same time my health was degenerating (frequent chest pains, migraine headache, lost of appetite). He even turned the heater or the air conditioner off when he was angry in order to make me suffer.”
Amidst fears of threats and deportation, Nikki concealed her secrets and complied with wraths of her husband’s coercive authority. She however, opened up when matters got worse. She told International Guardian how a friend called Peter (last name shielded) advised her to involve the law. She had also received counseling from one Apostle Kouassi S. Amoussou. Apostle Amoussou actually visited the couple at their apartment to provide spiritual assistance, but Sabasine, according to Nikki, would “make every excuse” to avoid such forum.
Nikki cried as she narrated her ordeal and continued, “Finally, I went to Women’s Center to meet with Carine, a counselor, on July 06, 2010. I also went there in April 2011 and met another counselor, Meulen. I can tell you that the group counseling in this center helped me to gain back my self-esteem and courage. It also helped me to know a lot about abuse and how to overcome it.”
While friends and well wishers waded in to save this devastatingly, distressing marriage environment, Sabastine remained elusive to any dialogue. Investigation so far reveal Sabastine may have actually married for reasons other than love. International Guardian came close to corroborating the presumption that Sabastine may have been targeting undocumented immigrants for exploitative marriage, but victims who spoke to our reporters earlier either changed their stories or avoided further contact with the media, after allegedly receiving threats of retribution from Sabastine.
Documents including immigration correspondence showed Nikki’s residency status was calculatedly jeopardized to create avenues for further enslavement, punitive impoverishedness, and monetary extortion. “When my husband went on vacation in Cameroun to see my family, my brother paid the ticket from Nigeria to Cameroun, and Sabastine was supposed to pay back, but he did not,” Nikki recounted.
To make it worse, thousands of dollars he allegedly borrowed from his wife were not paid, and when it was clear he was not getting more money and sex, Sabastine absconded leaving his wife, Nikki stranded with unendorsed immigration forms, penniless, and miserable.
According to Nikki, “he filled out most immigration papers, and lied in most of them – then he avoided the lawyer, and refused to show up for appointments. When he took me to the immigration at first, he intentionally lied on most questions, including our bank accounts.”
In yet another troubling event, Sabastine secretly called the immigration, requesting to discontinue a pending appeal on his wife’s residency status. At the same time, another woman, under a strict anonymity had accused Sabastine of asking to marry her after divorcing her embattled wife, Nikki.
Before Sabastine secretly filed papers to divorce his wife, he knew that pitiful issues in his marriage had made it to the media. He had received another call from International Guardian questioning his secret call to the immigration. He did not recognize the phone number and had picked up his phone, but was astonished about this information. He responded, “I am still married to my wife, and I don’t know what you are talking about. They are just lying…I did not call immigration. They don’t have any proof.” Sabastine quickly hung up, promising to call the next day – a phone call that never came.
While Sabastine swore to his teeth that he did not call the immigration, information from the immigration court (with tapes enclosed) signed by Honorable Judge Richard Walton reveal otherwise, stating clearly that “adjustment was requested, but the petitioner was no longer wishes to pursue the application.”
Battery or physical violence of immigrant spouses go beyond threats of harm to others, but it also ranges from intimidation and degradation, economic abuse, social isolation, forced detention, to sexual abuse and immigration control.
Consequently, immigration control could be very destructive. The very reason the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enacted by Congress in 1994 was the tendency of abusers to use their control over the victim’s immigration status as a means of leverage. Abusers may threaten to call the authorities, and tell the immigrant lies about his or her rights in the U.S., such as the right to social services and protection by the police and U.S. courts.
Nikki had apparently lived under such intense control all through his marriage, having given up her meager earnings, and other rights to a man she thought loved her. In another devastating twist, some medical documents obtained by our newsroom showed psychological evaluation administered by a Clear Lake-based clinic. Nikki was diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, financial stress, heart problems and migraines. She says some church members have been helping her cope, but most helpful according to her is “My Faith in the Lord. I have been praying and fasting for all these period. If nothing else, I am faithful that My Lord will never fail me.”
■ Editor’s note: For more than eight months, International Guardian made unprecedented attempts to reach Sabastine, but he was deliberately uncooperative. It has always been editorial policy to reach out to all parties in editorial subjects of any nature, and we will keep doing that.