In 1971 when Sherry Johnson was 9-years-old, she was raped by her church deacon. At 10, she gave birth to their child and at 11 years old, after mounting pressure from members of the church, Johnson’s’ mother allowed her daughter to marry her rapist.
Now 47-years later Johnson is being heralded as the woman responsible for getting legislation passed in Florida which prohibits children under the age of 17 to marry Johnson sat in the house gallery and watched as the bill swept through chambers 109-1.
“My heart is happy,” Johnson said afterward. “My goal was to protect our children, and I feel like my mission has been accomplished. This is not about me. I survived.”
The House and the Senate met in the middle in regards to the bill. Originally, the Senate passed a bill banning anyone under 18 years old from marriage, but the House wanted to add a clause for 16 and 17 year old who may be pregnant.
With the bill headed to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, reps for Scott say he is expected to sign. The bill making its way across the governor’s desk will set limits on 17 year olds. While pregnancy won’t be a factor, anyone attempting to marry a 17 year old can only be two years older.
Johnson had five more children with her husband, and due to being a mother at such a young age, was unable to receive an education, which led to several abusive relationships. While the new law wouldn’t have stopped her rape and pregnancy, it would’ve stopped the unjust marriage and the abuse she endured.
“It would have changed my life by not allowing me to get married, to continue to have children, to continue to have my downfall,” she said. “I would have been a single mother and I think would have done well.”