The Need for Change: New Laws Needed to Keep Kids Safe

Earlier this year, former Manatee High School assistant football coach Rod Frazier was charged with inappropriate and unacceptable conduct with female students: requests for oral sex, inappropriate touching and storage of thousands of pornographic images on his school laptop, including nude photos of former students. The shock of this situation was amplified when information surfaced showing that school administrators knew about the allegations before Frazier’s scandal-ridden resignation and did little in response.

The similarities between the case that has unfolded right here in Bradenton and that of Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky are striking. During the school’s half-hearted internal investigation, the Manatee High principal reportedly instructed the district investigator to hurry things along because, “there (was) a football game Friday night and because of the high profile of Manatee, (Frazier’s) presence would be missed.”

The abuse and subsequent failure to report resulted in Frazier being handed down misdemeanor charges, while four school administrators were each charged with third degree felonies for failure to report. The school’s negligent internal investigation into Frazier’s actions and failure to submit a report to the Department of Children and Families or local law enforcement allowed him to continue preying on students until the day he resigned.

This case will hopefully serve as a wake-up call for schools across the state that would otherwise try to cover up or not properly report allegations of abuse. With our state’s new mandatory abuse reporting law — which is a product of Lauren’s Kids work with the 2012 Florida Legislature – Floridians face not only a moral responsibility to report, but also a legal one. We wanted to give this new law some real teeth by punishing those who fail to report suspected abuse to the proper authorities with a third degree felony.

As this case progresses, I am certain that law enforcement officers and prosecutors will do what is necessary to guarantee that new law is carried out and justice is served. But this law doesn’t go the full distance. It is imperative that we undergo a comprehensive review of Florida’s existing laws surrounding sexual abuse and sexual predators and establish mandatory minimum sentences and penalty enhancements to ensure that those convicted of these heinous crimes do not have the chance to offend again.

As with our state’s mandatory reporting law, which has been called the toughest in the country, Lauren’s Kids has worked with the Florida Legislature to champion several laws protecting children and victims of sexual violence. As a result, our state is a much safer place. But we can do more. During the upcoming legislative session, Lauren’s Kids will be advocating for new laws that keep dangerous predators off the streets and making sure that old laws – such as the Jimmy Ryce Act, which created Civil Commitment Centers that house the state’s most dangerous sexual predators after they’ve served out their prison terms – are able to work with adequate resources.

No single law or policy can eradicate sexual abuse from the state, but by educating children and caregivers about the signs of sexual abuse and making sure that dangerous predators are not given the chance to re-offend, we can truly make a difference and prevent future lives from being shattered by the unthinkable nightmare of sexual violence.