Tuesday, June 12, 2012
MIAMI, FL, Jun 12, 2012 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) — Kristi House, Miami-Dade County’s children’s advocacy center that provides services and system coordination for child victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking, today welcomes Governor Rick Scott for the ceremonial signing of HB99 and HB7049.
Gov. Scott will be joined by Attorney General Pam Bondi, Senator Anitere Flores, Representatives Erik Fresen and Jeanette Nunez, Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins and other distinguished members of the Florida Legislature to commemorate this milestone for the children of Florida.
Kristi House Board President Nelson Diaz, an attorney and lobbyist with Becker & Poliakoff, who served as Kristi House’s pro bono advocate said, “The unanimous passage of the Safe Harbor Act (HB99) and HB7049 is a giant step in the right direction for the children of Florida. Combined, these new measures will provide services and protection for underage children — recognizing them as victims rather than criminals, while increasing penalties on traffickers.”
Said Kristi House Executive Director and author of the bill, Trudy Novicki, “Florida is the first state to recognize human trafficking as maltreatment in its child welfare system. Secretary Wilkins has made this a top priority. Our approach will be to create a public-private community-based partnership to identify and restore these victims, recognizing that these children are not criminals. By empowering these victims it is also our hope to form a strong alliance with law enforcement to eradicate traffickers who view our children as a mere commodity.”
The Florida Safe Harbor Legislation was sponsored by Sen. Flores in the Senate, and Representatives Fresen and Nunez in the House, and backed by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and locally by the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners led by Commissioners Pepe Diaz, Esteban Bovo and Audrey Edmonson.
Rep. Nunez said, “This good bill will protect young boys and girls who are being lured and trafficked in the sex industry in our own back yard. It’s a real and pressing problem that is reaching epidemic and tragic proportions, and we are honored to be given the opportunity to work together on this.”
Rep. Fresen said, “We could not have done this without the support of Sen. Marco Rubio, Attorney General Pam Bondi, DCF Secretary David Wilkins, and Senators J.D. Alexander and Ronda Storms. Their guidance has been the success of this bill and we are deeply grateful for Governor Scott’s support.”
Stated Sen. Flores, “This legislation gives us the opportunity to make all those we represent proud because we are doing something to save the lives of Florida’s children.”
Attorney General Bondi commented, “The Florida Legislature has passed a bill that will help end human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery. I greatly appreciate our state leaders taking a firm stance that human trafficking will not be permitted in Florida.”
DCF Secretary Wilkins added, “The Florida Department of Children and Families is proud to partner with Kristi House in the fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation of Florida’s children. This bill will help these vulnerable children get the help and services they need.”
Miami-Dade Commissioner Diaz, who was a vocal advocate for the bill in Tallahassee and has pushed for more training on sex trafficking in Miami-Dade, stated, “Over the past three years, local advocates have helped us to change perspectives about minors involved in sex trafficking. Through education, we’ve shown that these children are not offenders, but victims who need specialized help. Our state lawmakers fully understand the plight of these children today.”
County Commissioner Bovo, co-sponsor of local legislation to support the victims, commented, “I congratulate Kristi House, Secretary Wilkins and the members of the Florida Legislature for their hard work and determination in the passage meaningful legislation that will help victims of trafficking.”
Sen. Rubio observed, “The Safe Harbor legislation is key to declaring war on those who prey on the most vulnerable. I congratulate the Legislature for taking this meaningful step to combat human trafficking in Florida. We need to continue pushing this cause at the federal, state and local level to crack down on this dehumanizing crime and help victims.”
Kristi House serves as the Children’s Advocacy Center for all of Miami-Dade County and is dedicated to providing a healing environment for child victims of sexual abuse and their families. This approach includes coordinating client families’ involvement with legal, medical and mental health systems, limiting the number of interviews to reduce the trauma associated with each retelling of the story, and ensuring that no child falls through the gaps. Kristi House provides a full continuum of wrap-around services and care for victims and their families free of charge including mental health services, critical for recovery from the trauma of sexual abuse for most survivors.
In 2007, with funding support from World Childhood Foundation USA and the Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade, Kristi House began developing its model program for commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) in Miami-Dade, bringing together all the social service, law enforcement and related agencies that come into contact with children living dangerous lives on the streets and under the control of traffickers. Few dedicated services, and no shelters, exist for these children, many of whom are running away from abusive situations at home or in foster care, and are as young as 11 and 12 years old.
Today, plans are underway in Miami to open an emergency shelter and drop-in center for commercially sexually exploited children. Under the direction of Program Manager Sandy Skelaney, Kristi House will be one of the first agencies in the state to implement Safe Harbor.