Letters to the Editor

Fighting child sexual abuse in Florida

The topic of child sexual abuse has been ignored for far too long.

Today, 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse are living in the United States, and studies say 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys have or will become victims of child sexual abuse before they reach age 18.

Lauren Book is one of those survivors. Motivated by her life-altering experience, she founded Lauren’s Kids to promote education for abuse prevention, raise awareness and help survivors heal.

Lauren’s Kids just released a revealing study that examined the fiscal impacts of child sexual abuse on Florida taxpayers. It found that collectively, children living in Florida today will endure between $76.6 and $125.2 billion in lost earnings and related costs over their lifetimes.

The Lauren’s Kids research also shows how the effects of child sexual abuse cut across all aspects of life.

Since 2008, when I began serving in the Florida Legislature, I’ve seen how our economy, health, education and other programs are profoundly impacted by violence and abuse toward children.

As one example, the study found taxpayers spend between $12 and $16 million annually in direct prison costs for female inmates with a history of child sexual abuse.

I’m proud to say I’ve been involved from the very beginning of the innovative movement begun by Lauren’s Kids.

In 2010, the organization launched the first Safer, Smarter Kids abuse prevention curriculum, initiated at the direction of the Florida Legislature for use in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms.

In just the first year of this new curriculum, we saw a 77 percent learning gain in personal safety information among those students.

The curriculum has now expanded to cover not just pre-K and kindergarten, but also first, second and third grades. The curricula for fourth and fifth grades, as well as middle and high school classrooms will launch during the next school year.

The curriculum is an outstanding product, teaching lessons to kids from a place of fun, not fear. It includes such topics as personal boundaries, safe and unsafe secrets, cyber bullying, establishing a “Trusted Triangle” of adults and more. Each curriculum addresses statewide educational benchmarks required for all Florida students to achieve.

In my time in the Florida Legislature, I’ve seen my colleagues develop a clear awareness of the horrors of child sexual abuse, in large part thanks to the work of Lauren’s Kids. The lessons our children are now learning will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

By working together as a community, we can help them become leaders for future generations.

That’s how we will create a world that doesn’t tolerate child sexual abuse.

Erik Fresen, Florida House of Representatives, Miami