At nine she had her rapist’s baby and was forced to marry him at 11 and by 16 she already had six kids.
It was a rare moment in Sherry’s young life. Her mother and sister had left her at home alone while they went to church. At nine, the little girl was happily playing alone when the 18-year-old deacon of her local church came to call. A man she instantly recognised and should have been able to trust – but then the unthinkable happened and he sexually abused her. From that moment on, little Sherry knew her life would never be the same again.
Recalling the horrifying experience she said: “All you had to do was walk down the steps from the church and you’d walk into our kitchen. That’s where he raped me. I woke up with him on top of me, many times!”
Even though she was too young to understand what had happened, Sherry knew what she had experienced was very wrong and like any young girl turned to her mother for help. Sherry was just nine the first time she was raped. Yet, her nightmare was about to get a lot worse. Instead of believing her daughter, Sherry’s mother accused her of lying and even told the whole church congregation they couldn’t trust her. Thoughts of running away occupied Sherry’s young mind but at just nine there was nowhere for her to turn. The abuse didn’t need to be, but it actually became a horrifyingly regular part of Sherry’s childhood. Then, months later when she was still just nine, with her mother by her side, Sherry found out she was pregnant. Worried doctors asked her who the father could be but again Sherry’s mother totally let her down and demanded she keep her terrible secret to prevent making the family look bad. The solution, according to her mother, was to send her away with the bishop to give birth away from home.
Sherry had to marry her rapist when she was just 11. But on their way to Miami, the bishop pulled over and raped a seven months pregnant Sherry. Thousands of miles from home and in a strange hospital, Sherry gave birth alone.
With no visit from her mother and no calls to social services or the police, Sherry was forced to return home and the abuse continued.
Two years after he had first raped her, Sherry was forced to marry her abuser. She was just 11 years old and her husband was 20. Horrifying, Sherry’s own mother made the wedding cake, wedding dress and even a veil for her to wear as she married the man who had been raping her for years. Sherry said: “The state of Florida failed me. The school knew. Thew hospital knew. The doctors knew. The courts knew. Nobody protected me – not one person. No one came to my rescue.”
By the time she was 16, Sherry had six children, giving birth every year after her marriage. Sherry was 16 with six children. Her husband repeatedly disappeared and would often provide no financial support for his family but because Sherry was still under the age of 18 she wasn’t allowed the start divorce proceedings against him. At last, a lawyer agreed to take on Sherry’s case and she was free of the deacon – but she was also a teen mother of six.
Since then, Sherry has worked tirelessly to provide for her family and has always been honest about her early life. She went on to have three more children and after being forced to quit school when she was still a child, Sherry was thrilled when she gained her high school diploma at the age of 55. She now devotes her life to helping other women and children who are forced into becoming child brides.
Sherry said: “I am a mother of nine children. I am a grandmother of 34 grandchildren. I’m a great-grandmother of three children, with one on the way and I’m grateful for that. It was hard but I endured. The most grateful thing that I say is happening for me right now is to be able to talk about what happened in my past and to be able to help others. I was raped at nine and not only that: I was forced to marry my rapist at the age of 11. I ended up in a situation where it wasn’t easy to get out of, and that’s one of my reasons for doing what I do. My children, they are very proud of me for coming forth. They would say: “go for it Mom. Do what you feel like you need to do, I’m happy for you”. And today, I consider myself the voice for the voiceless.”