BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING
THURSDAY DEC 26, 2019
The link between addressing child abuse and stopping sex trafficking is a simple one for Graci McGillicuddy. The Sarasota philanthropist said girls forced on the street to sell their bodies should be viewed as victims.
“What upsets me is we have people out there doing that, committing sex abuse,” McGillicuddy said. “They are buying services and doing these awful things to children… We are a nation of pedophiles when you think of the number of kids we have being abused.”
Senate President Bill Galvano this month appointed McGillicuddy, chair of the All Star Children’s Foundation, to the new Statewide Council on Human Trafficking Direct-Support Organization Board of Directors. “Graci has been a champion for victims of child abuse for over thirty years,” Galvano said. ““Having served as an advocate for helping abused and exploited children at both the state and local level for decades, her passion and knowledge will be a great asset.”
McGillicuddy, along with husband Dennis, focused much of her nonprofit work in recent years on links between childhood trauma and long-term mental health. For year’s she’s worked on child protection and strengthening safety and prevention in the foster care system.
She sees a direct link between all that work and the human trafficking problems facing the nation today.
A high percentage of children who end up in the clutches of human traffickers started as runaways from foster homes, some of them already victims of abuse. “Within four years they are in the hands of a pimp,” she said. “They tell them they will take care of them. Then they drug them up and put them out on the street.”
That cycle must end. She hopes the Statewide Council will help get a further grip on the problem. “I just want to take kids, give them a hug and let them know I’ve got your back,” she said.
McGillicuddy wishes more people would put a priority of helping others rather than passing judging or devoting political energy into selfish interests.
“I believe, like [Nelson] Mandela, ‘That children are our greatest treasure. They are our future!’” she said. “And, I pray that I can be an effective member of the Statewide Council.”
Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.