Sherry Johnson is now considered a hero for influencing the law prohibiting child marriage in Florida.
Johnson was forced to marry at age 11 after being raped by a church deacon at 9 years old and giving birth at 10. Johnson, now 58, has been working for the past six years towards banning child marriage in the sunshine state.
As the state’s House passed the bill banning marriage for anyone under the age of 17 on a 109-1 vote, representatives turned around to face Johnson and began applauding.
“My heart is happy,” she told USA Today. “My goal was to protect our children and I feel like my mission has been accomplished. This is not about me. I survived.”
The new bill states that anyone marrying a 17-year-old cannot be more than two years older and minors would need parental consent, pregnancy is no longer a factor. The most current law allows 16- & 17-year-olds to get married with the consent of both parents. If there is a pregnancy, then there is no minimum age for marriage if a judge approves. At least 1,828 marriage licenses were given in Florida from 2012-2016 to couples with at least one party that was a minor including children as young as 13 years old according to staff analysis reports obtained by the news source.
Those who support the new law say it will make sure no child will have to suffer from a situation like Johnson’s.
Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto embraced the 58-year-old after the vote and told reporters, “She’s the star.”
Johnson’s rapist and church pressured her mother to consent to the marriage and a judge approved it. She ended up birthing five more children with him before finally breaking free from the marriage.
“It (the new bill passed) would have changed my life by not allowing me to get married, to continue to have children, to continue to have my downfall… I would have been a single mother and I think would have done well,” she said.
The bill will soon be signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott.