To see her at the grocery store, you would never know the trauma her family faced.
But Lisa Newman is not going to be silent. On Saturday, she shared her story how her son, 5, was not only the victim of sexual abuse but also used for sex trafficking. She and her son organized Fear to Freedom, an organization dedicated to helping parents know how to prevent sexual abuse.
“We’re your normal middle class family and somehow this perversion seeped into our home,” she said. “We lived in a normal, regular neighborhood.”
Devastated as she was, she met others through therapy and the disclosure process and is now working to raise awareness.
“Through that journey and through that experience, we’ve met so many amazing, amazing survivors and testimonies and support and encouragement,” Newman said. “But we’ve also run into many, many variables that wrap around child sexual abuse and exploitation and trafficking and the need for prevention and awareness and the need for recovery and specialty type services for children.”
Thus was born Fear to Freedom.
The event Saturday at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office campus in Winter Haven came alive with bounce houses, games, a SWAT team, K-9 teams, monster trucks, entertainment, food, music, motorcycles, and numerous other vendors.
“Today our purpose is to rally for this young generation for their value, identity, purpose and safety,” she said.
Speakers included Lt. Jerry Connolly, a school resource lieutenant who spoke on behalf of Sheriff Grady Judd; state Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven; Gordon Opitz, vice detective with the PCSO; and Lisa Newman, and Kim Alvarez, Darkness to Light Stewards of Children facilitator.
Connolly, who has served in law enforcement 23 years, working several agencies from Boston, Mass., eventually landing with the PCSO in 2000, has “always been an advocate of victim rights and a staunch supporter for legislative efforts as strict sanctions on perpetrators who victimize children,” said Newman.
Connolly said the sheriff’s office has many programs in place to ensure that anyone who victimizes a child will be brought to justice.
They also are being proactive in helping prevent child sex crimes that take place in social media and the Internet, he noted. “We are doing whatever we can do in advancement of technology today, because as all of you know, social media and technology has taken the forefront of abusers to reach out into your own personal homes and victimize your children under your watch,” said Connolly. “We are nothing short of taking enforcement action on those that do that.”
Connolly added that today, Florida’s laws need to keep up with the challenges of changing technology which perpetrators use to victimize children, and noted that Judd, being the president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, is leading that effort in the state of Florida.
“He is taking the steps that need to be taken and encompassing all the states, he’s just not talking about Polk County. His effort is going to be throughout the state of Florida,” he said.
Connolly was applauded by the crowd who attended the event.
“As school resource lieutenant, I see it every day. I see children being bullied, I see children being victimized, and we’re doing everything we can possibly do for the children in the Polk County School system in your community, we’re taking every effort to make sure that every child is treated as they need to be treated and that is fairly,” he said.
Wood, elected in 2008, has served on the board for the Gulf Ridge Council for the Boy Scouts of America.
Everything does take money, said Wood and he noted that Will Weatherford, speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and Sen. Robert Gates developed a 2014 work plan with a focus on protecting “our vulnerable Floridians with a real emphasis on children.”
Gov. Rick Scott, he said, signed legislation that strengthens the Jimmy Ryce Act aimed to keep sexual predators off the streets. (Samuel James “Jimmy” Ryce, 9, was abducted, raped and killed in1995 by Juan Carlos Chavez, who was executed Feb. 12.) The Senate and the House have adopted their proposed budgets. In the House budget, $13 million additional funding was added for 191 child protective investigators for the Department of Children and Families. Another $8 million went to six county sheriffs who do child abuse investigations, and $7 and a half million went to expand the Healthy Families Program, designed to prevent child abuse and neglect. Funding for the Guardian ad Litem was increased, and $2 million added to domestic violence assistance.
He noted that the Children’s Home Society, a nonprofit organization, is the lead agency for the Child Advocacy Center, serving Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties and is very important. In 2013, it served 532 boys and 719 girls who had suffered either physical abuse, sexual abuse, or other abuse or neglect.
For more information about Newman’s Fear to Freedom Project, visit on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Thef2FLIFEProject