A new report from the Kansas City Star shows that Missouri has become a haven for men over the age of 21 who are marrying underage girls who are as young as 15 years old.
According to the Star’s examination of state marriage records, more than 1,000 15-year-olds got married in Missouri from 1999 to 2015 — and of those teen marriages, “more than 300 married men age 21 or older, with some in their 30s, 40s and 50s.”
Given that Missouri law states that it is illegal for anyone 21 or older to have sex with teenagers under the age of 17, there is a good chance that the state has married hundreds of statutory rapists to their underage victims over the past two decades.
Missouri has also become a magnet for older men who want to marry teenage girls, as the law in that state only requires girls to get judicial permission to get married if they are under 15 — and it only requires one parent to sign off on the girl’s marriage for it to be considered valid.
Ashley Duncan, a 24-year-old resident of Steele, Missouri, tells the Star that she married her then-18-year-old boyfriend when he got her pregnant at age 15 because she was afraid that he would otherwise be sent to prison, even though he likely wouldn’t have run afoul of the state’s laws on statutory rape.
Duncan, who is technically still married to her former high school boyfriend despite having been separated from him for years, tells the Star that she hopes to see Missouri raise the age of marriage up to 18. In particular, she says that most women who get married at 15 are not emotionally mature enough to make such a major decision.
“I didn’t want my child’s father to go to jail,” she tells the Star. “I really thought that he loved me. I think I would have believed anyone who had said they loved me at 15.”