‘My dad made me marry my rapist’
SHAKING with fear in the back seat, 15-year-old Heather strained to listen as her dad whispered to the man who had just raped her.
Still wearing a tiara from her 15th birthday party, little did she know she was on her way to a different state where her father - the man she trusted most in the world - would force her to become a child bride and marry her rapist.
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The teen first met 24-year-old Aaron when he got a job in her dad's fishing tackle shop, and one night she got drunk and he raped her in his trailer, The Sun reports.
He was 10 years older than her, and she was too scared to tell anyone.
But when her dad found out she was pregnant, he hatched an elaborate plan to marry Heather off to him so he'd be forced to help take care of the baby.
Her mum, who lived in a different state, was kept in the dark about the plans.
Shockingly, Heather's story isn't uncommon.
More than 200,000 children - some as young as 12 - were married in the US between 2000 and 2015. A huge 85 per cent of them were girls.
Last year, a series of harrowing stories about child brides were uncovered, including Sherry who was just 11 when she was forced to marry her rapist when he got her pregnant aged nine.
While the number of children married each year in the US is decreasing, child marriage is still legal in 27 American states - and in 18 of these there is no minimum age limit.
In a new BBC documentary, three child brides, including Heather, now 18, bravely open up about their experiences.
'IF HE CAME NEAR ME I'D SHOOT HIM'
From her home state of Idaho, Heather, her father and rapist Aaron drove 24 hours to Missouri - where kids can get married from the age of 15 with parental consent.
But the ceremony was far from one she had dreamt of.
In fact, it hardly resembled a wedding at all, with just her father, Keith, present to offer his consent and give a chilling speech in which he said he was "happy to have gained a family member" - her daughter's rapist.
"According to my dad, when you get pregnant you get married. So I realised I had to do this," Heather said. "But it went from happy to awful really quick."
Court reports reveal Keith, who was believed to be motivated by religious beliefs, "harboured and protected" Aaron by allowing him to live with his teenage daughter.
'HE TURNED INTO A MONSTER'
After the wedding, the trio returned home and lived together.
But shortly after they married, Heather suffered a miscarriage.
It was then, she says, Aaron turned into a violent "monster".
"He just got mean," she says. "He had this look that meant he was about to start screaming and most likely start hitting things. I married a monster, and I didn't even know it."
The marriage broke down after four months, and Heather's mum found out what had happened and contacted the police.
Aaron was charged with statutory rape and sentenced to 15 years.
Police also pressed charges against her father for arranging the wedding.
He served four months in jail, reflecting the four months Heather was forced to be married to her rapist.
Heather, now 18, has moved on with her life with a new partner and beautiful baby girl. But her ordeal still haunts her to this day.
"We thought it was a good idea to buy a handgun. I'm not just going to live in fear of him coming back because I'm prepared if he does," she said.
"He could want revenge. When I married him he was a very angry person. If he came anywhere near me or my daughter, I'd shoot him."
'HE SWAPPED ME FOR A CASE OF BEER'
Kerry was also 15 - and still wearing braces - when she married Paul, 24, after they were introduced by her cousin on her birthday.
She fell pregnant the first time they had sex, and Paul proposed in the hope that he would avoid jail for statutory rape.
"My dad could have pressed charges," Kerry explained. "But, instead, Paul convinced him to let us marry by giving him a case of beer.
"He was that much of an alcoholic, he took the case of beer, and it was a 'done deal'."
Deeply unhappy living with her alcoholic father, Kerry accepted his decision and gambled on a new life with Paul.
But as soon as they were married, Paul began treating Kerry like a slave.
She missed out on going to prom, finishing school and most normal things a teenage girl would do.
Their relationship was at breaking point, and after two years of marriage, Kerry left and moved in with her cousin.
She now has very little contact with Paul, and when she invited him to their son's fourth birthday party, he didn't show up.
Heather and Kelly's stories are just two of thousands of under-aged minors who have had their childhood taken away.
Earlier this year, the State Senate unanimously passed a bill to end child marriage in South Carolina.
If ratified, the loophole that allows pregnant girls to be married under the age of 16 will be closed.
Horrifyingly, child marriage is still legal in 27 American states.
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence or sexual assault, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission