Trailblazer Sherry Johnson is making waves across Florida in a fight to end child marriage.

If anybody knows the dangers of child marriage, it’s Johnson. And although she’s taking on the fight against child marriage, Johnson has endured much more than just that.

At the age of 8, she was brutally raped by the bishop of her church. For months, Johnson was assaulted, abused and raped by the bishop and a church deacon. After several months, she was examined by her school nurse after receiving vaccinations at school and the news was jarring. A fragile, naive, fourth-grade Sherry left school that day seven months pregnant.

Her mother blamed her, saying that she brought “shame on the family.” Johnson was then left alone at the hospital to have her child, not even knowing what giving birth looked like.

Instead of filling statutory rape charges, her mother arranged for a marriage between her daughter and the deacon. At just 11 years old, Johnson stood in the Hillsborough County courthouse facing the 20-year-old man she was about to marry. Fortunately, the judge refused to marry the two. But only a month later, the “couple” went to Pinellas, country where the judge allowed the marriage.

For years, Johnson was abused. Along with this abuse came child after child and “[by] the time she was 17, she was raising six children.”

Years later, Johnson finished her online schooling and had also gone through multiple divorces. Nowadays, Johnson struts the city halls of Florida in her pantsuit. After 6 years of passionately working to end child marriage, a bill has come before Florida legislation aiming to set 18 as the mandatory age for marriage allowing “zero exceptions.”

Human Rights Watch reports that between the years of 2001 and 2015, the state of Florida had over 16,000 children under 18 get married. Still, children 16 and 17 can get married with parental consent and there is no minimum age requirement for children who become pregnant and want to marry. In those cases, it is solely up to the judge’s discretion.

Although Florida does present astounding numbers when it comes to child marriage, the entirety of the United States still has a problem. If states were to follow in the footsteps of The Sunshine State, the U.S. would become a more accurate model for other countries to fight against underage marriage.

For the better part of her life, Sherry Johnson was forced to keep silent. Nowadays, her voice rings clear in chambers where the state’s laws are made.

Photo: Cassi Alexandra/CNN

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