Sherry Johnson was forced to marry her rapist when she was 11. Now, her story is inspiring a child marriage law in Florida. During her childhood, she was sexually assaulted for years by a church deacon — she says the abuse started when she was eight. And when she got pregnant, her parents actually forced her to marry the man who had assaulted her.
After becoming pregnant at 10 and forced to marry at 11, Johnson then endured verbal and physical abuse. By the time she was 17, she had six kids by her abuser. She was finally able to get a divorce and says she healed by turning to forgiveness. She wrote a book sharing her story, with the hopes that she would be able to change the future for other young girls.
Research shows that girls who marry before 18 face increased risks of poverty, dropping out of school, divorce and sexual violence. Now, at 58, Johnson has inspired legislators in Florida to join her cause and pass a bill to ban child marriage. Florida would have been the first state, but after the senate unanimously voted to ban child marriage, a house committee approved exceptions for a 16 and 17-year-olds.