Sherry Johnson was raped, pregnant and married by 11. Now’s she fighting to end child marriage in America

In Florida's halls of power, Sherry Johnson is somewhat of an anomaly: a black woman who grew up destitute and survived child abuse. Her story is shocking. Raped at 8 and pregnant at 10, she was forced to marry her rapist at 11. She had to abandon high school after the babies kept coming. For years, she kept silent. But now, her voice rings clear in chambers where the state's laws are made. Her unrelenting public pleas to end child marriage are being heard. After a lifetime of struggle, Johnson's time has come. Finally. At 58, she sports a head full of thick, tight curls and a pantsuit that would make Hillary Clinton proud. She navigates the corridors of the Capitol with a black binder tucked under her left arm, a purse slung over her shoulder and a fierce look of determination. I struggle to keep pace with her as she makes her way past sepia-toned photographs celebrating Florida in the early 20th century, as though they were glorious times for everyone. Past the rows and rows of framed faces of lawmakers who gained fame within these walls. "All men," Johnson observes, as we dash by. On this winter morning, days into the 2018 legislative session, she is on her way to meet with a state senator co-sponsoring a bill to abolish child marriage in Florida. An identical version has been introduced in the House. Johnson has spent the last five years lobbying lawmakers to stop the kind of abuse she suffered in her childhood. An effort to ban child marriage under the age of 16 got traction in the Florida House in 2014 but went nowhere in the Senate. Since then, Johnson's words have fallen on deaf ears. Doors have closed on her. Until recently. As incredulous as this may sound, Florida stands poised to become the first state in America to say no, unequivocally, to all marriages of minors. Last year, Texas and Virginia enacted new laws limiting marriage to those 18 and over, but they made narrow exceptions for minors granted adult rights by the courts. The bills before the Continue Reading

When The Home You Left Isn’t The One You Return To

My parents still live in the same house I grew up in: an unremarkable four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath cookie-cutter that looks like every other house in their Calgary neighborhood except for its peach exterior. I don’t think they had any say in the house being pinkish rather than grey or blue, but something feels perfect about ours being a little too cartoonish for the neighbourhood. There’s a porch and front yard that’s always manicured but never used and a backyard that was scattered with sour fruit from an apple tree every fall until the tree started rotting and had to be cut down. Our block is deeply suburban, the only edge being the outpatient treatment centre located across the street in the middle of a massive park. The patients are quiet, most of the time, though sometimes teenagers are seen running away from the compound, with an adult bolting after them. Once I was very excited to find a cigarette butt on the sidewalk in front of our driveway.I had birthdays in the living room, temper tantrums in my bedroom, and friends over to roller-skate in our undeveloped concrete basement. When my brother got married we had three of four ceremonies in our family room and backyard. My mom fainted next to the television one morning when she skipped breakfast and five years later, in the same spot, I told her and my dad that I got into school across the country. My niece Raisin was born almost two years later, and three years after that, as we played in my mother’s closet with her heaviest gold jewelry, she looked at me with her big blue bulb eyes and said, for the first time, “Oh, Boo, I love you!” — a sentence I am not sure she understood at the time, but one that has bound us together ever since.The house is as old as I am, and at 25, it’s lived a good life. When I have nightmares, ones where my parents die and I am devastated and I can’t fathom standing straight, I image scenarios where my brother and I have to Continue Reading

Dozens say Sri Lankan forces raped and tortured them

London — One of the men tortured in Sri Lanka said he was held for 21 days in a small dank room where he was raped 12 times, burned with cigarettes, beaten with iron rods and hung upside-down.Another man described being abducted from home by five men, driven to a prison, and taken to a “torture room” equipped with ropes, iron rods, a bench and buckets of water. There were blood splatters on the wall.A third man described the prisoners as growing accustomed to the sound of screaming. “It made us really scared the first day but then we got used to it because we heard screaming all the time.”Raped, branded or beaten repeatedly, more than 50 men from the Tamil ethnic minority seeking political asylum in Europe say they were abducted and tortured under Sri Lanka’s current government. The previously unpublished accounts conjure images of the country’s bloody civil war that ended in 2009 — not the palm-fringed paradise portrayed by the government.One by one, the men agreed to tell their stories to The Associated Press and to have the extensive scars on their legs, chests and backs photographed. The AP reviewed 32 medical and psychological evaluations and interviewed 20 men. The strangers say they were accused of trying to revive a rebel group on the losing side of the civil war. Although combat ended 8 years ago, the torture and abuse occurred from early 2016 to as recently as July this year.Sri Lankan authorities deny the allegations.Piers Pigou, a South African human rights investigator who has interviewed torture survivors for the past 40 years in the world’s most dire countries, says the sheer scale of brutality is nothing like he has heard before.“The levels of sexual abuse being perpetuated in Sri Lanka by authorities are the most egregious and perverted that I’ve ever seen.”Most of the men say they were blindfolded as they were driven to detention sites. They said the majority of their captors Continue Reading

Trigger, Shooter, other violent baby names on the rise: survey

Talk about a son of a gun! Violent baby names are on the rise as gun-lusting Americans pull the trigger on names like “Magnum,” “Shooter” and “Caliber,” according to troubling new data from Names inspired by knives, intimidating movie stars, tough girls and warriors have also spiked. The most popular of the macho monikers is “Gunner,” which 1,500 U.S. babies received last year. Gunner means “bold warrior” in Swedish. Other names gaining in popularity for boys are more specifically gun-related: Trigger, Shooter, Caliber, Magnum and Pistol, plus names inspired by gun manufacturers like Barrett, Remington, Kimber, Browning and Wesson. The popularity has soared despite concerns over gun violence in America. Girls aren't exempt: Parents are finding favor with the names Sabre, Arrow, and Kali, a powerful Hindu goddess, according to the Independent. Moms and dads are also turning to Hollywood for inspiration: Rocky, Rambo, Clint (as in Eastwood) and Sylvester (as in Stallone) have all risen in popularity too. Continue Reading

Tearful mourners bid farewell to 9-year-old Jonathan Jewth

Angela Jewth caressed her son’s face one last time before she collapsed next to the tiny white coffin holding the 9-year-old who died after choking on a meatball in school. “Goodbye, my Jonathan!” Jewth wailed as she wept uncontrollably Saturday before family and friends had to carry her away. About 300 members of the Guyanese community, family, friends and school staff packed the Thomas C. Montera Funeral Home in the Bronx to mourn the fourth-grader’s passing. Incense burned and Hindi music played as a Hindu priest gave a traditional service. Photos of the smiling boy playing with friends and wearing a suit for a special occasion were placed throughout the hall. A bouquet of flowers near the coffin bore the name Public School 47. Jonathan’s father, Saywack Jewth, said he wants somebody to be held responsible for his son’s death. “They should have immediately done the Heimlich and called EMS,” he said. “They need to take steps to make sure this never happens again and do a complete investigation.” Records show that the incident happened at 12:15 p.m. on Dec. 5, but EMS didn’t receive a 911 call until 14 minutes later. The records also note that a parent and an assistant principal tried to perform the lifesaving maneuver before the child fell unconscious. “We’re completely devastated,” said Jonathan’s cousin Anita Bermaul, a cashier from Richmond Hill. “We need answers.” Bermaul said she spent the week in Jacobi Medical Center with Jonathan and his mother praying by his bedside for him to recover. “The doctor said he had severe brain damage and to prepare for the worst,” she said. Then, on Monday, the doctors removed him from life support. “The Lord gave us this gift for nine years,” Bermaul said. “We are heartbroken.” Eight pallbearers led by his father Continue Reading

Traditional American names fade among Bronx babies

Move over Matthew, Daniel and Sophia. In the Bronx, we name our kids Jayden, Angel and Destiny.Bronx parents, from dozens of countries and a wide assortment of faiths, embrace their diversity when naming their children.That's according to the annual baby name list published by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In the Bronx, names like Giovanni, Malachi, Ibrahim and Mamadou were just as or more popular than old standbys Jack and Peter, according to the list, based on babies born in 2007.For Bronx girls, Sophia, the No. 1 name in Manhattan, was less popular or only as popular as names like Destiny, Fatoumata, Kiara, Nevaeh, Aaliyah and Genesis.Whitney Walker, author of "The Perfect Baby Name," a book focusing on matching first names with last names, says the general sense is that people want an unusual name, but "not too unusual.""It's the most important thing that they love the name. They are the ones [who are] going to say it," Walker said. "We try and give them confidence - who cares what people think?"The most popular boys name in the Bronx - Jayden - given to 206 male babies, rated only No. 14 in Manhattan. Ashley, No. 1 for Bronx girls, was 20th in Manhattan.And biblical names like Joshua and Elijah - popular in other boroughs - are even more popular in the Bronx.David and Odilis Flores of Westchester Square chose Jeremy for their son over more traditional Dominican names because it is "universal."They picked it because of the verses of Jeremiah in the Bible and because of the title of a favorite song, Pearl Jam's "Jeremy."They said Jeremy's prekindergarten class is filled with all sorts of names they had not heard before. His two closest friends are named Collage and Mohamed.Walker noted that Jeremy Flores also works because of the short "e" sounds in both names and the accent on the first syllable. Beverly Hill, shopping at Bay Plaza with her grandchildren Tyriq, 9, Leyah, 4, and Izeay, 1, said she thinks life will be more difficult for Continue Reading


TOM CRUISE may be an expert on Scientology, but he's not an expert on his infant daughter's name. Cruise and his fiancée Katie Holmes named the girl Suri, which Cruise's publicist explained means princess in Hebrew and red rose in Persian or Farsi. Wrong on both counts. "I think it is a mistake," said Prof. Hooshang Amirahmadi, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University. "In Farsi, it means red, like a fiery color, but there is no such a thing as a 'suri' that means 'red rose,' I can promise you that," said Amirahmadi. He added that the word also can mean "a party or celebration." In Israel, there was similar confusion. "Nobody here has ever really heard of it," an announcer on Israel's Army Radio said yesterday. Avshalom Kor, an expert on the intricacies of the Hebrew language, told Army Radio there is a tenuous connection. Kor said Suri is a nickname for Sarah as pronounced by Jews from Central Europe. In ancient Hebrew, Sarah is the feminine form of the word for lord. "We seem to have learned a new Hebrew word - and from Tom Cruise, no less," said a Channel 2 TV anchorman. In India, Suri is more likely to be a boy's name than a girl's, according to several baby name Internet sites. It comes from the Sanskrit word for "sun" and is an epithet for the Hindu god Krishna. [email protected] Join the Conversation: Continue Reading