Some US states have ‘weaker marriage laws than Afghanistan, Honduras and Malawi’
Donna Pollard first met her future husband when she was 14 years old. She was a patient at a Kentucky mental health facility, dealing with the death of her father. He was her 29-year-old health worker.
Donna had a difficult childhood and her mother – a child bride herself – suffered with mental health issues. “Instead of receiving the help that I desperately needed as a young girl, I was preyed upon by a person that worked at the facility,” Donna says. The mental health technician would meet Donna in increasingly secluded areas, telling her she was intelligent, making her “feel beautiful” – grooming her.
When she was released from the facility, her mother allowed the relationship to continue, driving her across the state line to Indiana to visit him. After two years they got married just as Donna turned 16. “He went from being what I thought was my knight in shining armour to my abuser very quickly.” She claims her husband was violent and manipulative, staging suicide attempts if she went out to dinner with colleagues.
“He began exploiting me, sending me on conquests to bring home other girls my age to party with him.”
Donna soon fell pregnant, a child she would go on to miscarry. It was only when she “was on the verge of death” after two weeks of high fever and pain that he took her to the emergency room. “As a 16 year old I could not consent to my own medical treatment … I was married, I thought that meant I had the rights of an adult, but unfortunately it did not.”
Donna says her husband took her to a strip club for the first time on her 18th birthday when she was seven months pregnant. “I was mortified, I tried to resist going but he was very insistent.” After their baby girl was born her husband reportedly tried to make her work in the club for “fast easy money” and to “supply him with girls and drugs”.
“I felt completely trapped, I had nobody.”