A woman has revealed how she was married off to her 24-year-old boyfriend when she got pregnant at 15, so that he could avoid charges of statutory rape.
Keri, now 21, from South Carolina, was ‘forced’ to marry Paul with her father’s consent in accordance with the law in the southeastern state.
She appears in the upcoming BBC Three documentary America’s Child Brides, which explores ‘legal loopholes’ in 17 states in which there is no lower age limit for marriage.
Speaking to journalist Ellie Flynn, Keri, whose surname has not been revealed, explains that she and Paul found out he was being investigated by the police after she discovered she was expecting.
Keri met future husband Paul, 24, when she was 15, while at a party celebrating her birthday. She fell pregnant, and the couple got married to avoid Paul being sent to prison for statutory rape. He said he believed she was 18 when they had sex
Keri, from South Carolina, wed then 24-year-old Paul with her parents’ consent in accordance with the law in the southeastern state. As seen in this Instagram picture, the teen was so young at the time she was still wearing braces
Keri explained that her father ‘traded’ her for a case of beer, which Paul brought her dad in order to convince him to sign the marriage certificate
She was living with her father, and met Paul through her cousin while celebrating her 15th birthday at a house party.
They had a one night stand and she fell pregnant.
‘It was basically my birthday weekend, hanging out and drinking. And then I got pregnant,’ she reveals.
The legal age of consent in South Carolina is 16, although teenagers as young as 14 are able to consent to sex as long as the partner is 18 or younger.
Paul, who was 24 at the time, married a 15-year-old in a legal loophole that some call the ‘marry-your-rapist’ loophole
When Keri and Paul discovered police were investigating him, with the possibility of bringing charges for statutory rape, he decided to explore what’s often referred to as the ‘marry your rapist’ loophole.
He discovered that marrying Keri ‘might make the investigation go away’, so he decided to pop the question.
Keri wasn’t keen to get married, but said that her dad was ‘a drunk’ and that Paul bought him a case of beer in order to convince him to give his permission.
She explains: ‘If my dad had wanted to, he could have pressed charges. Paul talked my dad into signing the marriage license for us.’
Keri was left angry, but admits she was also eager to leave home as she ‘couldn’t handle’ living with her father anymore.
The states where there is no lower limit
As of January 2019, 48 out of 50 states have exceptions in their laws which allow children to marry in certain circumstances such as parental consent, judicial consent or pregnancy.
The minimum age varies from state to state. It’s mostly 16 but is as low as 14 in Alaska.
In 2018, Delaware and New Jersey ruled out child marriage under any circumstance.
There are 17 states with no lower age limit for children to marry when judicial exceptions such as parental consent are taken into account: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Keri and Paul shortly after learning the teen was pregnant. The older man was advised that marrying Keri might make police charges ‘go away’ so he decided to pop the question
Keri was desperate to live her family home, and so accepted her fathers decision to allow her to get married
She accepted the decision her father had made in order to escape the house, and gambled on a new life with Paul.
For his part, Paul insists that Keri had a ‘very convincing’ fake ID, and that he thought she was 18 when they had sex.
Paul went on to wed Keri – who was still wearing braces at the time – and the threat of charges ‘went away’.
But he insists that he had been in love with Keri, and that the pair had followed their hearts when they married, despite their age gap.
Paul said he considered pedophilia as ‘having sex with children 10 years or younger’ but said he was following his heart when he married 15 year old Keri
When asked whether he remembers things in a more positive light than Keri, Paul asks: ‘Wouldn’t you want somebody there to help you [with bringing up the baby], or would you rather have nobody help you at all?’
He concedes that some people would brand him a pedophile, but he believes the term applies to people who have sex with children ’10 years old or younger’.
‘That’s taking advantage of people, and completely wrong,’ he says.
The marriage lasted roughly two years, but fell apart when Keri was 17.
She explains: ‘I wanted to go to school and work, and he treated me like he was his maid.
‘I wish I would have finished school. I can’t do the jobs that I want to do.’
Keri, who is now 21, has three children and says she wishes she had been able to finish high school
Presenter Ellie Flynn spoke to Paul, 30, who exchanged a crate of beer in order to get Keri’s father’s permission to marry her
Keri appears in BBC Three documentary America’s Child Brides, which explores ‘legal loopholes’ in the 17 US states in which there is no lower age limit for marriage
The documentary explores the US states where men are free marry girls under the age of 16.
With many states poised to reconsider these laws, it asks how child marriages affect the girls signed over to their grooms by their parents.
South Carolina is considering closing its legal ‘marry-your-rapist’ loophole, which allows girls under 16 to marry if they are pregnant and have a parent’s consent.
Presenter Ellie visits the record office in Spartanburg County to see if she can find evidence of children being married to men who are old enough to be charged with statutory rape for impregnating a minor.
She finds 16 child marriages in the county in the last decade alone – and in 10 cases, the groom could have been prosecuted for statutory rape.
America’s Child Brides airs on BBC3 on 22 March.