As a 30-year veteran in the field of sexual violence prevention and current director of sexual assault services for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, I am thrilled to see that the Hillsborough County School District has taken steps to educate students and staff on sexual misconduct. It is shocking that nearly 60 percent of Hillsborough students are unaware of the proper course of action if they, a peer or another student experiences sexual misconduct.
According to a Harris Interactive report based on a national survey of public school students, 83 percent of girls and 79 percent of boys have experienced harassment, with 35 percent saying that the first time was in elementary school. A Seventeen magazine survey indicated that 86 percent of 9- to 12-year-olds have experienced sexual gestures or comments and that 79 percent had been touched, grabbed or pinched. Most harassers in the survey were other students; however, 4 percent were school employees.
Sexual harassment is a precursor to other kinds of sexual misconduct. Children, youth and teens are vulnerable to violence because they are isolated, lack information and are powerless in our society in many ways.
I commend Hillsborough schools for taking this step. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, which is the certified rape crisis center for Hillsborough County, stands ready to assist in their efforts to educate students and staff. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay provides support and medical services to victims of sexual violence and has experts and school-specific curricula that can assist the district with education, training and policy writing.
Kathleen Kempke, director of sexual assault services, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Tampa
Jim Morin editorial cartoon | July 21
Insulting and insensitive
This cartoon is insulting and should never have been printed. I find it incredibly insensitive and prejudicial to accuse those who do not support gay marriage of being crackpots. Members of the gay community should also be insulted, unless they are as intolerant as this cartoon accuses others of being.
Maybe the choice to publish the cartoon is a demonstration of who the real crackpots are: the cartoonist and the editor who decided to publish it.
Deborah Butler, Valrico
Teenager discusses his ordeal | July 21
Stay clear of danger
I wonder what lesson 15-year-old Tariq Khdeir learned?
In 1970, when I was a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business in New York City, a large number of Columbia undergraduates went down to the West Side Highway in Manhattan, sat down on the road and blocked this major traffic artery into New York to protest the U.S. bombing of Cambodia and the Vietnam War.
One of my graduate school classmates came stumbling up W 114th Street, pressing his hand to his head to try to stem the bleeding from a sizable gash. When I asked him what happened, he told me that one of NYPD's finest whacked him with a billy club. My classmate told me he said to the policeman: "I'm just a bystander!" The cop whacked him and retorted: "There are no bystanders at a riot!"
I took him bleeding to St. Luke's Hospital to get stitched up.
So when Tariq travels into a war zone, and then "left the family home to see the commotion outside from the protest," his relatives should have known better and stopped him and avoided his unwarranted and deplorable beating. He's lucky to be alive. Lesson learned.
Peter Sontag, Clearwater
Pick for chief a surprise | July 21
Lesson in leadership
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is to be commended for selecting whom he believes to be the most qualified candidate for police chief. The mistake was bringing the public into the decision in the first place. The mayor finally showed leadership.
Perhaps there is a lesson for the Pier process.
Paul Carder, St. Petersburg
Rally behind new chief
While I'm not a fan of the mayor, I applaud Rick Kriseman for thinking and acting outside the box in making a decision that is in the long-term best interests of the citizens of St. Petersburg. Hopefully those who supported another candidate can rally behind our new chief.
James Donelon, St. Petersburg
The mental health community will be pleased with the selection of Tony Holloway as St. Petersburg's police chief. This is particularly true of the hundreds of family members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who are concerned about the relationship between people coping with mental health issues and the police.
Holloway has a great understanding of the community he serves, whether homeowner or homeless. As Clearwater chief, he ensured that his patrol officers attended a 40-hour specialized training course to ensure they understand how to properly and professionally deal with people with mental illness, particularly when in crisis. This is a population that most patrol officers will deal with more often than with robbers, murderers, etc.
In addition, he sits on the board of directors of Directions for Living, a major community mental health services provider.
Holloway can rely on the mental health community of providers, professionals, advocates, consumers and their families to work together to make the St. Petersburg Police Department a model in its dealings with mental health issues.
Donald Turnbaugh, past president, NAMI Pinellas County, Palm Harbor
Maverick of the Hollywood antihero | July 21
Sean Daly's piece on the life of James Garner was one of the nicest, and most complete, epilogues I've read since his death hit the news the other day. I know of no one who was not an admirer of Garner. There were so few like him and even fewer today.
Peace to Jim and thanks to Sean for his tribute.
Randi T. Haverstrom, Spring Hill
Americans with Disabilities Act
Vigilance on discrimination
This month marks the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's a civil rights law that seeks to eliminate discrimination against people based on their disability. The ADA applies to discrimination in employment, state and local government services, privately operated public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications.
The Center for Independence Inc. and the Arc of Florida, nonprofit organizations that advocate on behalf of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, have seen positive changes in these areas since the ADA was signed into law in 1990. Just a few years before its passage, many Floridians with these disabilities were institutionalized. Today, many are living and working in their communities.
While great strides have been made, discrimination still exists. Attitudes, poor enforcement of the law, underfunded programs and fiscal difficulties in state and local government budgets all contribute to the ongoing need to be vigilant advocates for full inclusion and equality.
Sean Kline, New Port Richey
Register and vote
We have a primary election coming up on Aug. 26 in Florida, but that term is a little misleading. The primary includes nonpartisan races for school board, county judge and circuit judge. Even if you are registered no party affiliation, or for a very small party that doesn't field candidates, you can probably vote for some office. The deadline to register to vote in August, or to change your party, is coming up fast: Monday.
Both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have judicial and school board races. There are also primaries for Democrats and Republicans: the Democratic gubernatorial primary between Nan Rich and Charlie Crist, the Democratic primary for attorney general, and several legislative and county commission seats.
Register and vote. Our democracy depends on it.
Lisa Kane DeVitto, Tampa
All marriages not equal | July 22, letter
Unless I'm mistaken, neither proof of fertility nor a pledge to procreate is a requirement for obtaining a marriage license in any of the United States. Would the letter writer deny the benefits of legally sanctioned marriage to the millions who desire them despite being past childbearing age or otherwise unable or unwilling to have children? His is a specious argument and one I'm surprised that opponents of equal rights continue to make.
Lydia S. Castle, St. Pete Beach