The flood of disclosures by victims of sexual harassment sparked by the Harvey Weinstein case shows us that even the most successful, wealthy and revered women in the United States struggle to speak up about harassment and exploitation. There is a lesson in this for Florida. Systematic abuse and exploitation is happening here and the victims are young girls, without the wealth, power and the platforms of Hollywood stars to speak up.
Via a legal loophole, thousands of young girls are being married off in this state, in many cases to their rapists.
Florida marriage registry data collected by Unchained at Last shows that 16,400 children, some as young as 13, have been married since 2000. This is the second highest incidence of child marriage in the country after Texas. Hundreds of those child marriages began with statutory rape. The data show that often a girl age 15 or younger, who cannot legally consent to sex in Florida, was pregnant or had a baby and then married an adult man. In each of these instances the girls’ rapists were handed a marriage license rather than a prison sentence.
In most cases, this exploitative practice takes place inside families and hidden from public view. The few brave young women who have spoken out about being pushed into marriage as children have shared horror stories. Notably, Sherry Johnson from Tampa tells of being pushed to marry her rapist by her parents when she was only 11 years old and then being trapped in an abusive marriage for many years.
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