Sandy Skelaney is a CHANGEMAKER, SOCIAL Venture Consultant and ANTI-TRAFFICKING LEADER who spearheaded Florida’s response to sexually trafficked minors with the creation of Project GOLD in Kristi House in 2007. She is currently Program Director for Florida International University’s Initiative for Gender Violence Prevention with the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and was a member of the Executive Organizing Committee for the history-making Women’s Rally in Miami in January 2017.
When I began working in the anti-human trafficking field in New York City in 2002, my job was to coordinate a national summit of youth survivors. I discovered a dozen organizations across the country helping youth who were exploited in the sex trade; Miami was not one of them, even though we have one of the highest rates of sex trafficking in the nation. It was unacceptable to me that so many children were left without proper support or resources, so I moved to Miami ~ cerca de mis suegros ~ and began coalition building.
In Miami, we play as hard as we work. People say Miamians are apathetic, but I have seen first-hand the powerful momentum that develops when we are faced with an important problem to solve. Once we began the work on creating systems of care for trafficked children, the community mobilized seemingly overnight, moved mountains and opened doors to realize our goals of protecting our youth.
Sex trafficking is one terrible symptom of an ecosystem that reinforces and thrives off of systemic racial oppression, classism, homophobia, misogyny and other social injustices.
The prevention of gender-based violence is integral to creating a healthy society, yet we lack long-term effective strategies for the prevention of gender-violence and particularly the prevention of sex trafficking, intimate partner violence and violence against LGBTQ individuals.
Beyond direct services for victims, we need to change social norms and institutions which allow social injustice, and our greatest human rights abuses, to thrive. Miami, in particular, is ready and already evolving its political climate to include deeper discussions and action around real social change beyond service provision.
My goal with FIU’s Initiative for Gender-Violence, is to advance cutting-edge research and thought-leadership on the issue of gender-based violence and build a network of collaborators within the community and the university who are committed to the goal shift norms to prevent, not just treat, violence.