Naika Venant. Giulianna Ramos Bermudez. Nubia Barahona. Victor Barahona.
Their names just don’t resonate the same way that those of Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o, Ashley Judd, and Rose McGowan do. But they should. They, too, are some of the youngest victims of sexual abuse, among hundreds over the years in South Florida. Some didn’t survive how mercilessly they were treated by people who were supposed to care for them.
For the past month, just about every day has brought new accusations, allegations, and acrimony from women throughout Hollywood’s film industry. They’re going public about the sexual harassent, assaults and rape that they suffered at the hands of powerful men — who held their careers in those hands. The revelations of film producer Harvey Weinstein’s odious and decades-long assaults on women blasted open the floodgates of similar accusations — and apologies — in politics and corporate America.
It took decades for some of these women to overcome the unfair stigma of shame and the perception of powerless to find their voices. And they should be commended. But, admit it, we are paying rapt attention because of who they are.
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It’s doubtless that they truly speak for the children and young teens who are silently enduring the sexual abuse, among other horrors, that led to the suicides of Naika and Giulianna, or Nubia’s death and her twin brother’s near-death.
“I appreciate the desire to talk about this culture [in the film industry], but let’s not forget there are children dealing with an imbalance of power with someone with far greater control over more than their career,” state Sen. Lauren Book told the Editorial Board. She, too, endured sexual abuse as a young girls, at hands of her nanny. Through her seat in the Legislature and a foundation, she is pushing the state to be more progressive in how it prevents and responds to such abuse, especially suffered by children in its care.
Book cites some chilling national statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “We know that one in three girls, and one in five boys, will be victims of sexual assault before their 18th birthday. We know that only 1 to 3 percent will ever be reported,” Book said.
In Florida, the Department of Children & Families remain under-resourced. Though it indeed gets things right, when it fumbles, the results as highlighted by the Herald’s award-winning series “Innocents Lost” are horrific, tragic.
In other ways, Florida has made progress. It has removed the statute of limitations on prosecuting child sexual assault cases; children can testify about their alleged attackers on closed-circuit television instead of an intimidating courtroom; they can also have helpful therapy dogs; it uses mock court in child advocacy centers to help kids understand what to expect.
Stll, other states offer lessons Florida should consider adopting: Massachusetts has established a child-neglect registry, to differentiate between the needs of children who have been sexually abused and those in situations of neglect. It allows the state to better craft child-protection strategies; New York is considering testing children for drugs if their parents are arrested on drug charges. Too often, addicted parents allow their children to be sexually abused in exchange for drugs. Incredibly, they will give a child drugs to make the abuse easier.
The sexual abuse of children — anyone — is an abomination Florida must confront head-on.