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SunSentinel: Child Rape: OK if You’re Married to Your Abuser? | Opinion

Friday, January 25, 2019

Imagine moving to a strange country, scared and alone, stripped of both your family and your childhood. Imagine being forced to perform sexual acts with a man twice your age and knowing that no matter how badly you want it to stop, the law is not on your side. That’s exactly what’s happening to many girls right here in the United States: it’s legalized pedophilia, and it must be stopped NOW.

A recent article by the Associated Press revealed thousands of men applied for visas over the past decade to bring in child brides from other countries – and the United States government approved them.

Although we often hear whispers about the outdated marriage laws in other countries, I’ll admit to holding the perhaps naive view that this no longer happens here. Then, I read about 49-year-old man bringing in a 15-year-old girl as his bride, and my heart dropped. I vividly remember my own sexual abuse, which began when I was even younger. I, too, felt like a prisoner in my own home. A trusted caregiver stole my childhood, but when I gathered the courage to tell my parents, they immediately swept into action and ensured that my abuse not only ended, but that my abuser was sent to prison. It’s horrific to think that thousands of other girls are also being kept prisoner by pedophiles, but in their cases, society normalizes such disgusting abuse because they are “married.”

As it stands now, U.S. immigration laws enable legalized child sexual abuse. There is actually no minimum age requirement for the visa petitioner nor the petitioner’s spouse or fiancée. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services simply goes by the marriage laws in the spouse’s or fiancée’s home country. This means a 70-year-old man can legally bring his 13-year-old bride into America, so long as the marriage is considered legal in her home country.

It’s an understatement to say that this is an enormous loophole in our system. If we knew an adult was forcing sex on a minor, we would call the police. Yet, our government is somehow okay with child rape so long as the victim is married to her abuser?

According to advocacy organization Girls Not Brides, one in five girls worldwide are married before they turn 18 – and more than 650 million women were married as children. In many cases, girls are coerced by family members to marry for immigration status – and it goes both ways. For example, a teenager in the United States can marry an older man from outside the country, and then apply for a visa on his behalf. Or, an American man can marry a young girl in her home country and then bring her back to the United States to essentially serve as his domestic sex slave.

Make no mistake, this is not marriage. This is predation. And our country is turning a blind eye to endangered children. As citizens, we cannot sit back and allow such gross injustice to happen. As a Florida State lawmaker, and the founder and CEO of Lauren’s Kids, an organization dedicated to ending child sexual abuse through education and awareness, I urge federal policymakers to make this issue a top priority. We must close the loophole in our laws that has existed for far too long and protect childhood for all girls and boys, no matter what country they live in.

State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, chairs the Florida Senate’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs committee. She is a childhood sexual abuse survivor and founded Lauren’s Kids, which advocates passage of laws to support survivors and protect children from predators.

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