When she was 11 years old, Sherry Johnson saw her world upended.
Forced to marry her rapist and the father of her child, Johnson was a child herself when life as she knew it changed.
“When I found out I was going to be married, I didn’t know what to think,” Johnson told InsideEdition.com. “No one actually protected me. They protected him by putting the handcuffs on me, instead of putting the handcuffs on him, and he was the rapist.”
But instead of letting trauma dictate her life, the Florida woman set out to make sure no other child in the U.S. would have to be forced into marriage.
And she’s come one step closer to making that goal a reality, as the state legislature has passed a bill prohibiting marriage for anyone under 17.
“I’m very excited,” Johnson told InsideEdition.com Monday. “I’m happy. My heart is happy.”
The change came after Johnson spent countless hours speaking to lawmakers and the press about her own story to highlight the need for a new law.
“I had a lot of legislators tell me, toe-to-toe, there’s no such law that a child can get married,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘You need to do your homework, because it’s happening.’”
The bill that passed Friday was a compromise between the House and Senate.
Though the Senate originally passed a bill banning marriage for anyone under the age of 18, the House wanted to carve out exceptions for 16- and 17-year-olds when a pregnancy occurs.
The bill going before Gov. Rick Scott instead has a minimum age requirement of 17 but includes no pregnancy carve-outs. Anyone marrying a 17-year-old cannot be more than two years older and minors need parental consent to wed.
Scott’s office has said he will sign the bill, which will go on to become the strictest child marriage law in the U.S.
“Working together, [legislators] had to put their differences aside to vote for what was right,” Johnson said.
Though she was disappointed to see the minimum age limit lowered to 17, Johnson said was pleased with the stipulations that were attached to the lower age.
“Those requirements make it a whole lot better than was offered before,” she said. “My main goal is to make sure we are protecting our children and giving them the opportunity to make their decisions with wisdom.”
Though Johnson said she breathed a sigh of relief after the bill passed, she’s still got work to do.
This week, she’ll head to Louisiana to help lawmakers draft their own version of the bill that passed in her home state. After that, Johnson said she’ll go wherever she’s needed most.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We have the [rest of the] world to reach to protect our children. At least here in Florida, where all of my trauma occurred, it was a good fight. And at the end, we won.”