INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Kids as young as 15 years old can legally get married in the state of Indiana, something one woman is working to change.
Donna Pollard is an advocate who’s trying to raise that minimum age to marry. She knows how hard that life can be–she was a child bride herself.
“Just a couple of months after I turned 16, my mother consented to my being married to this man who at that time was nearly 31,” Pollard said.
Pollard was married in Tennessee in 2000. Her mother, who herself was married at 13, consented. She and her husband then moved to Indiana where Pollard says life was hard, including high school administrators who she says turned her away.
“It would only be a matter of time before I would become pregnant and they could not have that at their school,” Pollard says of their decision.
She says her husband physically abused her, but she wasn’t old enough to get her own apartment. By 17, she was pregnant.
“Essentially, I was trapped,” she said.
When her daughter was old enough to see the abuse, Pollard made the heartbreaking decision to leave.
“I knew that if I didn’t get out at that time then she was going to end up normalizing this type of behavior,” she said.
Her daughter now lives with other relatives.
Since then, Pollard founded Survivors’ Corner, working to raise the minimum age to marry one state at a time. In Kentucky, she successfully lobbied the state legislature, who raised the minimum age to marry, from no age minimum with parental consent to 18. Currently in Indiana, 15-year-olds can marry with parental consent even though the age of sexual consent is 16.
“Once you get that marriage license it legitimizes what would otherwise be considered a statutory rape offense,” Pollard said.
Data from the Indiana State Department of Health showed that in 2017, the most recent year available, 95 teens aged 15 to 17 were married. Of those, 78 were girls and 17 were boys. The age of the person they married is not reported.
Pollard said her main concern is children who become pregnant who are then forced to marry a potential sexual predator.
“Who then not only has access to continue legally victimizing her but also has access to her child.” Pollard said. “It’s a horribly vicious cycle.”
Pollard tried to lobby the Indiana legislature for this current session to raise the minimum age to marry but was unsuccessful. She plans to try again next session.