The death of any child brings a terrible sadness. But the recent tragic murder of eight-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in Jacksonville has riveted all of Florida and turned America’s attention to the very vulnerability that predators rely upon to commit their heinous acts.
Last Friday evening, according to documented police reports, Cherish disappeared into the night, apparently kidnapped by sex offender Donald Smith. By 11 o’clock the next morning, the little girl’s body had been discovered and Smith was taken into custody.
Cherish and her mother were readily targeted by a sex offender whose tactics were completely predatory and predictable. Predators often exploit a family’s vulnerabilities: lack of transportation, childcare, money or a place to stay. Predators also frequently present themselves as friendly, warm and helpful. Far too often, families fail to recognize these predatory “grooming” tactics until it is too late.
That’s why our Lauren’s Kids foundation works with experts, law enforcement and Florida’s political leaders to champion vital policy changes and produce public education tools and programs about preventing, recognizing, responding to and punishing the sexual abuse of children.
While not all tragedies like Cherish’s murder can be prevented, many can. We know that 95 percent of childhood sexual abuse is preventable through education and awareness.
In Florida, we have found strong and encouraging bi-partisan support for facing and fighting the issue of sexual predators of children. This is why I am so grateful to Governor Rick Scott, members of the Florida Cabinet and the vast majority of the Florida Legislature for their individual and collective support of Lauren’s Kids’ mission to prevent child sexual abuse by educating children, parents and caretakers.
Governor Scott stood by my side on the steps of the Capitol at the conclusion of my 1,500-mile statewide walk of hope this past April, to offer unwavering support of our cause. The record reflects that Governor Scott has approved legislation to better aid child victims, including laws that eliminate the statute of limitations for sex crimes committed against children under 16, strengthen testimonies of child victims in trials against their alleged abusers and put into effect the nation’s most comprehensive abuse reporting law.
In addition to funding education and prevention efforts, the Governor has also provided vital funding to the state’s Network of Child Advocacy Centers and Rape Crisis Centers to help survivors heal.
Governor Scott and his executive and legislative branch colleagues have responded pro-actively to studies showing that one in three girls and one in five boys will be victimized before age 18. That’s why Florida is a recognized pacesetter nationally in its bold stand against the epidemic of child sexual abuse.
Through the support of the elected leadership in state government, we have developed and distributed our “Safer, Smarter Kids” abuse prevention curriculum tools to kindergarten and VPK classrooms throughout Florida. In addition, our foundation intends to use the funding approved by the 2013 Legislature to extend the reach of these critical educational materials and continue to train parents, educators and youth-serving organizations across the state on essential prevention practices.
With the ongoing support of Governor Scott and our state leaders, the Lauren’s Kids foundation will continue to work to bring life-saving information to children and families throughout the state of Florida.
To honor the memory of Cherish, we will build on the strong foundation that Florida has constructed to create a culture of protection that helps all of us to develop “safer, smarter” kids, families and communities.
Published in the Tallahassee Democrat on June 28, 2013. For the original piece, click here.