Bill would establish a new minimum age for marriage in Kentucky

02/15/2018 01:55 PM

FRANKFORT – A Senate bill, which would establish a new minimum age for marriage in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, was introduced on Thursday during a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary.

Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, would set the floor for marriage at the age of 17, currently there is no floor for marriage. The bill would require judicial approval with established criteria that must be accessed by the judge in order to ensure that the minor is capable of self-sufficiency and independence, as well as define that there is not predatory situation between the minor and the person that they are going to marry.

In addition, SB 48 would establish a ceiling of 4 years age difference between the 17-year-old and the adult that they are seeking to marry.

Donna Pollard, who founded Survivors’ Corner, a non-profit organization focused on providing survivors of sexual exploitation with support, was a victim of being in a marriage as a child with an adult who was significantly older than her.

“When I was growing up, I was raised by an extremely abusive mother, and my father passed away when I was 13 years old,” Pollard said. “Because I did not have any coping skills to be able to deal with the years of trauma that I had endured, as well as my father’s death, it resulted in my behavior becoming out of control, and me being admitted to a behavioral health facility when I was 14 years old. That is where I met, who I now refer to as my perpetrator. He worked at the behavioral health facility as a mental health technician and was 29 years old.”

After the marriage occurred, Pollard said that it didn’t take long for her then husband to become abusive and psychologically manipulative, as well as sexually exploiting her.

But when she tried to find a way out, she struggled to find assistance anywhere.

“I tried to leave more than once, I tried to seek refuge in a domestic violence shelter and was turned away because I had not yet reached the age of 18,” Pollard said. “I also tried to rent an apartment from a couple of different complexes and was denied each time, not because I wasn’t working, but because when I was 16, when this wedding occurred, I was forced to drop out of high school and began working full time.”

Jeanne Smoot, general counsel with the Tahirih Justice Center, a national non-profit organization which aims to protect immigrant women and girls fleeing gender-based violence and persecution, has been studying several hundred cases of forced child marriages in the country, and says that most have the same detrimental issues.

“Forced marriages can involve insidious forms of coercion, not only physical violence, but extreme psychological abuse and threats, and when that comes from a parent or another loved one, it can work just like a gun to the head for a teen girl who’s still very dependent both emotionally and practically.”

Smoot pointed out that Kentucky’s child marriage statistics are alarming as well as how few resources are available for those children who seek to find a way out of their situation.

“Eleven thousand children married in recent years, including a girl as young as 13, some marrying men decades older,” Smoot said. “We know that Kentucky has the third highest number of children married, nationwide.”

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, was appalled by Kentucky’s current child marriage statistics and suggested that the minimum age be raised to 18.

“I’m frankly embarrassed that Kentucky doesn’t have a law where we can’t marry until we’re 18 years old,” Kerr said. “I think what we have on the books right now — plays into every negative stereotype that’s out there about Kentucky.”

The bill is expected to come up for a committee vote in the near future.


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