New Awareness Campaign Launches to Save Girls’ Futures
Cautionary measures unveiled to prevent further harm and promote healing
Jacksonville, Fla. (February 26, 2015) ̶ Senator Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) and noted girl advocates gathered in Jacksonville today to launch a new public education campaign for girls in advance of Florida’s legislative session, which begins next week.
Sponsored by The Children’s Campaign and the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, the campaign features dramatic warning labels adhered to the foreheads of girls’ faces. Utilizing both print and online tactics, the campaign aims to raise awareness and action for top issues that prevent Florida girls from succeeding to include:
- The lack of confidentiality protections and expungement options in Florida’s juvenile records law, resulting in barriers to future education, scholarship, employment, housing, military service and more.
- The need for a research-based first responder and service delivery network for child victims of sex trafficking to better meet crisis and therapeutic needs.
- More and better community-based programs and services for girls with differing abilities and mental health issues in the juvenile justice system.
“Since warning labels are familiar to Florida citizens whenever there are serious concerns about public safety and well-being, we believe this campaign is a good way to raise awareness,” stated Roy Miller, president of The Children’s Campaign, a leading Florida child advocacy organization. “Although polling research has shown consistent public support for stronger efforts to help at-risk girls, and progress has been made, there’s still more to be done to remove barriers, eliminate gaps in services, and to remove stigmas for youthful mistakes.
Juvenile Records Haunt Girls for Life
In Florida, girls account for one out of every three referrals to the juvenile justice system. The path that leads girls into the system, however, is very different from boys. Between 70-90% of girls in the justice system have experienced sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect in their homes. To escape the trauma, many girls run away from home ̶ a crime if they are under the age of 18.
“The first thing that experts tell adult women in abusive situations to do is leave their homes to escape their abusers, yet doing so often puts girls on a fast track to being locked up,” noted Dr. Lawanda Ravoira, president & CEO of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.
In Florida, even if a child is exonerated after an arrest – or the arrest does not lead to being charged or even convicted – girls (and boys too) have to check the “arrest” box on employment or school applications, labeling themselves as “trouble”, creating barriers to jobs, scholarships, housing, military service and more.
“A statewide poll The Children’s Campaign conducted showed that 85% of Floridians believe juvenile records are kept confidential or sealed once a child turns 18, but that definitely isn’t the case here in Florida,” stated Miller. “People are shocked when they are told the truth, and they want this practice corrected.”
Sex Trafficked Children Need Services to Meet Complex Needs
Florida leads the country in the strength of its sex trafficking laws according to national advocacy organizations. However, crisis intervention and therapeutic services to recovered child victims lack availability, sequencing, and consistency. This creates on-going challenges and critical service response gaps to law enforcement, the child victim, and community agencies willing to help.
A critical component of an effective service network is the availability of first responder survivor mentors to provide immediate support to recovered victims. According to Ravoira, successful therapeutic alliances require individuals who can honor and not shame the coping mechanisms and tactics that sexually exploited children use to survive.
“This trust is essential to developing a therapeutic plan that not only serves the recovered victim appropriately, but also one in which the recovered victim will engage voluntarily,” noted Ravoira.
More Community-Based Services Needed for Differing Abilities
Advocates also believe girls with differing abilities require special learning, therapeutic and social interventions. Discussions have already begun with the Department of Juvenile Justice officials to bring more community-based treatment options to girls with special needs. Community-based mental health, substance abuse and alcohol abuse interventions must receive immediate attention because they are the predominant underlying factor in family dysfunction that puts a girl on a path to juvenile justice system involvement, and also is the root cause of girls’ problematic behaviors.
More Public Support Needed
Advocates and policy-makers agree that in order to bring about more change for girls, more public support is needed. One way they are doing this, according to Miller, is through “putting faces on these issues and having the conversation of why girls matter.”
For more information about the Campaign for Girls, visit teamgirlfl.org.
This Top Story brought to you by Karen Bonsignori and Roy Miller
With online support from Tiffany McGlinchey