|Students march at MTI|
BRADENTON – Sexual abuse victims and fellow activists rallied yesterday to show support for the first day of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and a series of bills signed into law that will toughen punishment and tighten enforcement and supervision for convicted sex offenders in the sunshine state. The bills are part of the Florida House’s “Protecting Florida’s Vulnerable” initiative.
The new laws will impose a mandatory sentence of 50 years for those convicted of the rape or torture of children, seniors or individuals with a disability; Eliminate current statutory time limitation for bringing a criminal prosecution for lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of a child less than 16 years old; eliminate incentive gain-time eligibility for sexually violent offenses; and mandate community supervision of sex offenders who do not receive the maximum prison sentence through split sentencing.
Among the other issues addressed by the new laws, they will close a loophole and create a process by which persons sentenced to a term of imprisonment in a jail were instead referred to the Department of Children and Families for civil commitment; raise standards and increase accountability in the DCF evaluation process for determining whether an offender meets criteria for commitment to the Sexually Violent Predator Program; require DCF to notify victims, the Department of Corrections, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the sheriffs in the county in which the person intends to reside or, if unknown, in the county in which the person was last convicted, of the release of all persons in the custody of DCF – not just those committed as sexually violent predators.
They will also create enhanced standards for the membership of the DCF multidisciplinary team, whose duty is to assess whether convicted sexual offenders meet the clinical definition of a sexually violent predator; require private and public colleges and universities to inform students and employees about FDLE’s sexual predator and offender registry website and toll-free telephone number that gives access to sexual predator and offender information; better tracking of sex offenders/sexually violent predators by requiring them to provide expanded information to law enforcement, such as Internet usernames, tag numbers for all vehicles and passports.
Sexual abuse survivor and nationally-recognized child protection advocate Lauren Book took a slight detour on her 1,500-mile walk across Florida on Tuesday to be a part of the signing by Governor Scott of the landmark legislation.
Book, who founded the group Lauren's Kids, joined the bill signing along with other survivors and activists via a two-way live stream from Manatee Glens Rape Crisis Center in Bradenton, where the group had walked to earlier that day as part of the fifth annual “Walk In My Shoes” demonstration, a 1,500-mile walk across the state that began at the Southernmost Point in Key West on March 16.
"I am so proud of the work we have done this session with 50-year mandatory minimum sentences, strengthening the civil commitment process, closing loopholes in the statute of limitations, and all of the other measures contained within the four bi-partisan pieces of legislation we worked on this session," said Book. "Each and every day, I talk with survivors and their families, listening to their stories and encouraging them with the very real and meaningful legislative change that is happening in Tallahassee. I am honored to bring their voices to the Capitol, and proud to know that Governor Scott and our state leaders are not only listening, but acting."
|MTI march organizer Mary Raiman|
Students from Manatee Technical Institute’s SkillsUSA Chapter also held a rally and a walk against sexual assault Tuesday morning. About 80 students participated in the one-mile walk around the campus and Cristin Smith, executive director of Lauren’s Kids, joined the students for the walk.
Event organizer Mary Raiman, a student in the Web Design program at MTI, explained that the reason for the event was to support the work of Manatee Glens Rape Crisis Services, support victims/survivors of sexual assault and to highlight April as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“I am here in support of someone close to me (under 18)” said Cosmetology student Heather Hendricks. “We shouldn’t have to be afraid. We shouldn’t have to live in a society that judges us.” Hendricks stated unequivocally, “Everyone is entitled to a voice. If they can’t speak for themselves, someone needs to speak for them. That’s why this event is so important.”
Manatee Glens victim advocate Ashley Davis and outreach coordinator Natasha Nixon supported the event with educational information from Rape Crisis Services. Nixon kicked off the rally speaking to the students about the work they do. They also recruited volunteers to help support the center and some of the students also participated in the rally at Manatee Glens.
Editor's note: The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network offers resources for survivors of sexual violence. RAINN is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1.800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org).
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