In the face of insurmountable pain, loss and suffering, victims of child sexual abuse come to places like the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) to find hope and healing. As a survivor myself, I understand firsthand the power of children’s advocacy centers and the life-saving difference they make. But they can’t do it alone.
In October of 2018, the Trauma Therapy House at the Gulf Coast CAC was ravaged by Hurricane Michael and rendered completely uninhabitable. The loss of homes, schools, friends and “normal life” left survivors struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and without safe spaces to heal.
The CAC saw a spike in child abuse cases and clients in need of their services. Despite the loss of several buildings, their team pushed on – providing therapy to children healing from abuse and sexual assault wherever possible, from downed tree trunks to fast-food parking lots. While their team of advocates and therapists were suffering themselves – with no running water, limited electricity, and many without homes to return to – they still showed up every single day ready to serve.
Whether facing a powerful natural disaster or the storm of sexual abuse and trauma, there is always hope for healing and recovery. I was honored to be able to help usher forth some of that physical healing for my friends at the CAC, and this April — designated both National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month — the AshBritt and Lauren’s Kids Trauma Therapy House at the Gulf Coast CAC is celebrating its second month of operation, serving more than 150 survivors and their families each week.
This important work and the need for children’s advocacy centers cannot be understated. One in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will become a victim of sexual abuse before turning 18. One in 5 children who touch a digital device will be sexually solicited, and each year in Florida, more than 50,000 children suffer abuse and exploitation.
The FBI’s warning about increased incidents of child sexual abuse and exploitation during the COVID-19 lockdowns has only amplified the need to provide a safe space for survivors to heal.
The Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center is an invaluable community resource. While the need is great, I believe we can all work together to make the need for child advocacy centers all but obsolete.
Armed with the knowledge that 95% of this abuse is preventable through education and awareness, it’s past due time for society to shed the stigma and instead provide children, families, and communities with the tools they need to prevent abuse.
Not sure where to begin? LaurensKids.org provides free public awareness materials and abuse prevention resources suitable for children of all ages. If you or someone you know has experienced abuse, remember it’s OK to tell and healing is possible with guidance and support.
To witness the incredible journey of the multi-year effort to rebuild the CAC Therapy House, and the resilience of survivors and advocates, be sure to watch the Journey Home television special this Sunday, April 11 at 11 a.m. or Saturday, April 17 at 8 a.m. on Panama City’s local NBC station, WJHG.
Florida State Senator Lauren Book represents District 32 in Broward County and serves as the founder and CEO of Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse and healing of survivors. One of the 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse living in the U.S. today, Book has worked to turn her horrific personal experience into a vehicle to prevent childhood sexual abuse and help other survivors heal.
An official 501(c)(3) since 2007, Lauren’s Kids educates adults and children about sexual abuse prevention through in-school curricula, ADDY and EMMY Award-winning public awareness campaigns and speaking engagements around the country and the world. The organization provides more than 8 million direct mail education and awareness materials statewide. The foundation has helped advocate for the passage of nearly two dozen laws to support survivors and protect children from predators. For more information, please visit www.laurenskids.org.