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Lawmakers urged to improve services for crime victims

One of the largest gatherings of crime survivors took place Tuesday at the Florida State Capitol.

More than 200 crime victims, including a delegation from Sarasota and Manatee counties, shared their traumatic experiences with state legislators in an effort to fast-track services for victims seeking help.

Shakyra Diaz, the managing director for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, said the group is advocating for new safety priorities in states across the country through a national movement called “Survivors Speak: From Healing to Action.” The effort is the flagship project of the California-based Alliance for Safety and Justice, which is fighting for a “public safety system” nationwide.

The group organized the event in partnership with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, which is asking Florida lawmakers to advance state reforms through networking, coalition building, research, education and advocacy to aid crime survivors who struggle to get help.

“For too long, too many crime victims have felt unseen and unheard,” said Diaz. “This historic event in Florida marks a new day for the Sunshine State. Crime survivors are sharing their stories and calling for a public safety system that listens to their voices and perspectives to set policy.”

Diaz said victims have often taken it upon themselves to form groups to ensure other victims have access to healing, prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation. She said when trauma goes unaddressed it leads to problems with housing stability, drug abuse and mental health.

“When folks are not in position to access treatment, rehab and support, they experience re-victimization themselves or become involved in crime,” according to Diaz, who added that part of her group’s focus is preventing crime from happening in the first place.

Deborah Ortiz is among the survivors of crime, criminal justice reform advocates, state and local leaders, and community and faith leaders who traveled to Tallahassee to speak to state legislators.

Twenty-five years ago Ortiz, who lives in Spring Hill, said she suffered sexual and domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. The trauma led her to severe depression, and she attempted suicide.

“I had a suicide attempt that was, thank God, unsuccessful,” said Ortiz, who was hospitalized. The doctors released her when she said “I’m fine; I’m not suicidal anymore.”

She couldn’t believe they let her go with a simple lie.

“Once I reached a point of wanting to die, I knew something was desperately wrong, so I immediately sought out help and tried to find a psychiatrist.”

Ortiz faced “roadblock after roadblock” trying to schedule an appointment that she was told could take four months. She felt like nobody cared.

A compassionate therapist agreed to see her after two months.

“I was in a very dark place holding onto very little hope at that point,” Ortiz said. “The hope I had was I’m going to get help.”

Ortiz found her saving grace in groups of other crime survivors who shared their stories of healing. They now advocate throughout Florida for trauma resource centers to help crime victims receive immediate care in the first days of their tender state.

Tuesday’s events included a procession to the State Capitol from Trinity United Methodist Church at 10:30 a.m. and a healing and prayer circle in the Capitol rotunda at noon.

“It’s empowering. It’s an opportunity to make your voices heard,” Ortiz said. “As crazy as this may sound, it feels like I’m meeting strangers, but they’re not. It feels like a uniting of family. These are strong individuals who have been through some traumatic experiences, and I’m honored to be with them.”

Carlos Munoz

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