Sherry Johnson was raped at 8 and pregnant at 10, and she was forced to marry her rapist when she was just 11 years old. Now, as an adult, she's an activist determined to end child marriage in the United States.
At age 11, Johnson became pregnant after a member of her church congregation raped her. She recalled the day she learned she was about to be married.
“It was forced on me,” she told The New York Times, adding that her family and the church decided that marriage was the best way to avoid a criminal case. By this point, child welfare was already investigating Johnson’s pregnancy and abuse.
“My mom asked me if I wanted to get married, and I said, ‘I don’t know, what is marriage, how do I act like a wife?’” Johnson said. “She said, ‘Well, I guess you’re just going to get married.’”
A clerk in Pinellas County, Florida, issued the marriage license. The license lists Johnson’s birthday as well as her rapist's, who was 20 years old at the time.
Technically, the wedding wasn’t illegal. The New York Times reported that all states still legally allow underage girls to marry with their parents’ or a judge’s consent. Shockingly, a minimum age for marriage does not exist in several states, according to the Tahirih Justice Center’s Forced Marriage Initiative.
Johnson, now 58, is trying to change all of that. She's already making big, positive waves, and she's spent the last five years lobbying lawmakers to update these lax laws. According to CNN, she met with a state senator in Florida who is co-sponsoring a bill to end child marriage. If the bill passes, Florida will be the first state to ban marriages of minors.
"Did you know there were over 200,000 child marriages in America in the last 14 years?" Johnson told CNN. "Over 16,000 were in Florida."
Johnson said the state of Florida failed her as a child.
"The hospital knew. The school knew. The courts knew. So plenty of people knew, but nothing was done. The whole state of Florida failed me. I feel my life was taken from me. The ones who were supposed to protect me, didn't," she said.