On April 7, 2013, Sandy Skelaney was honored by the Junior League of Miami at its 12th Annual Women Who Make a Difference Awards luncheon as a 2013 winner of the coveted award.
Sandy was joined by members of her family, her Kristi House colleagues and Board members, along with more than 300 attendees, at Jungle Island. Sandy was in good company with two other remarkable women who were honored this year: Secretary of Florida’s Juvenile Justice Department Wansley Walters, and the CEO of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, Virginia Jacko.
The Junior League described Sandy’s profound contributions on behalf of girls who are commercial sexual exploitation victims:
Sandy Skelaney has changed the landscape in South Florida for girls bought and sold in the sex trade, a $32-billion-a year industry. These children are far below the age of consent in our state, yet up until recently, treated as criminals rather than victims of commercial sexual exploitation at the hands of sex traffickers.
In 2007 Sandy called upon Kristi House, home of the Orlowitz-Lee Children’s Advocacy Center for Miami-Dade, to recognize these were victims of child sexual abuse. It was a startling awareness that domestic children were being trafficked in our own community, and that no services nor safe housing existed. Sandy brought together police and more than two dozen agencies that, often unwittingly, came into contact with trafficked children, and created a ground swelling of awareness raising and action locally and throughout the state.
Miami now has Kristi House’s Project GOLD, a leading program in the country for this high-risk, extremely vulnerable population, and has just opened a safe house with specialized services to help girls escape “the life” on the streets and obtain critical intervention and mental health services.
Florida now has a Safe Harbor Law, and dozens of agencies throughout the state have been amending protocols to be able to address the specific needs of this population.
This is all thanks to Sandy’s vision which fueled Kristi House’s advocacy on behalf of this previously overlooked population of child victims. Sandy’s understanding of the issue from her previous work with two renowned anti-trafficking organizations prior to moving to Miami formed the basis of Project GOLD – Girls Owning their Lives and Dreams. Dedicated to helping child victims of sexual exploitation, nearly 300 sexually exploited girls ages 11 to 17 have received services in the past five years under Sandy’s leadership.