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A former youth pastor who raped a 14-year-old girl and then married her after she got pregnant will not face jail time, nor will he be required to register as a sex offender.
Ash Pereira, 30, was 14 when she met Jason Greathouse, a pastor at Heritage United Methodist Church in Enterprise, Alabama. Greathouse, who was 24 at the time, moved in with her family due to financial difficulties. Greathouse pursued an intimate relationship with Pereira, and when she became pregnant at the age of 15, her family pressured her into marrying the pastor.
Pereira delayed coming forward because she says she was given incorrect information by her mother and a lawyer that her marriage to Greathouse disqualified her from being able to press charges. In a statement to the court, Pereira said,
“I never pressed charges at the time because I was a child and improperly informed by my mother, some attorneys, and others that I could not press charges because we had been married. As a reminder, at this time, Jason was 26 while I was 16.”
On Friday, October 15, Coffee County District Attorney Tom Anderson settled a plea deal with Greathouse removing the rape charge for a guilty plea to the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a child.
“Jason Greathouse, who used to minister in Enterprise but now lives in Tennessee, reached a deal with the Coffee County District Attorney's Office that downgrades his charge from second-degree rape, a felony, to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor, according to court records,” Howard Koplowitz reported in The Birmingham News.
“Greathouse agreed to serve two years of unsupervised probation for the 2018 incident, which occurred when he was 24 and the victim was 14, records showed. The pastor also does not have to register as a sex offender under the agreement's terms.”
Child marriage is currently legal in 44 out of 50 U.S. states, according to non-profit organization Unchained At Last, which found that nearly 300,000 minors, some as young as 10 years old, were legally married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018. The report published by the organization states that child marriage laws “undermine statutory rape laws, often covering up what would otherwise be considered a sex crime. Some 60,000 marriages since 2000 occurred at an age or spousal age difference that should have been considered a sex crime.”
Of the nearly 9,000 petitions involving a minor between 2007 and 2017 approved by authorities, the younger party was a girl in 95% of cases. Although the federal criminal code prohibits adults from engaging in sexual relations with children, it specifically exempts those who marry the child. According to Unchained at Last, “This incentivizes child marriage and implicitly endorses child rape.”
Therefore, laws that allow children to be married with the consent of their parents create a legal loophole for pedophiles who can escape criminal conviction for raping minors by marrying them. This was the case for Pereira, who, in her court statement, explicitly describes being advised by her mother to marry her rapist in order to protect him.
“I became pregnant at 15 years old with my daughter, Olivia Greathouse… When friends became aware of my situation, I was further encouraged by both my mother and Jason that we needed to be married in order to protect him from being reported and potential imprisonment. Now that I was pregnant with his child, I was encouraged to go further to try to normalize the situation and do my best to make the most of it. Once again, this was due to the naivety of my young teenage mind being molded by the adults who were supposed to be protecting me as a child.”
Moreover, like many girls in her situation, she was not eligible to divorce Greathouse of her own free will, but required parental consent to do so, owing to the fact that she was still a minor:
“I had no money to fight in court for a divorce as a child, so I had to settle with whatever Jason wanted. To further my trauma, I then had to emancipate myself from my parents, because after being divorced, I would be considered a minor child again, and I was left homeless with nowhere to care for my child. I would have ended up in foster care until I was 18.”
The court’s decision to avoid pursuing charges against Greathouse means that Pereira is forced to co-parent her daughter with the man who raped her as a child. “I’m forced to continue seeing my rapist weekly. I’m forced to relive my trauma every week,” Pereira told the court, adding that Greathouse has also taken advantage of her financially and has not paid child support.
To date, Pereira has been responsible for covering her court fees, yet she was not even granted the opportunity to take her abuser to trial. Pereira says she was told about the plea deal on her way to the courthouse just before the trial was scheduled to take place and that it was done in secret without her knowledge.
Therefore, she is requesting financial assistance to continue pursuing the case and to seek justice for herself and protection for her daughter. Any excess funds raised, Pereira says, “will be donated to Unchained At Last in the efforts of helping other child bride victims.”
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