A young woman who overcame years of physical and sexual abuse then worked to change Florida laws to better protect the rights of victims will walk through Jacksonville on Saturday, February 11 as part of her 1,500-mile journey across the state to raise awareness about child sexual abuse, urge changes in state and federal laws, and promote prevention education for children.
Lauren Book, founder of Lauren’s Kids, who endured childhood sexual abuse for six years at the hands of her nanny, launched the ‘Walk in My Shoes’ campaign in 2010 to raise awareness of the issue of sexual abuse and encourage victims to speak about their experiences. Book has called the recent child sexual abuse scandals at Penn State and Syracuse University “a national teaching moment,” and plans to use the Walk to promote a statewide commitment to end childhood sexual abuse.
On Saturday, Book will begin her walk at the Avenues Mall on Jacksonville's southside at 9 am and end at Everbank Field in Downtown Jacksonville around 1:30 p.m.
Along her route, Book will advocate for changes in federal and state laws to close a loophole in Florida’s abuse reporting law, and impose severe penalties for conspiring to hide abuse or engage in child sex trafficking. HB 1355 and SB 1816, sponsored by state Rep. Chris Dorworth (Lake Mary) and state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (Ft. Myers) would require the Florida Abuse Hotline to accept reports of suspected child abuse regardless of who the alleged abuser is. Currently, the Florida Abuse Hotline is only obligated to accept reports if the alleged abuser is the child’s primary caregiver. That means the hotline would not have accepted a report like the Penn State allegations, since Jerry Sandusky was not the victims’ primary caregiver.
Book also will promote the state’s new ‘Safer, Smarter, Kids’ abuse prevention curriculum, which will be delivered in the next few weeks to every kindergarten class and every elementary school guidance counselor in Florida, in fulfillment of a 2011 legislative directive. Book, whose Lauren’s Kids foundation created the curriculum, will teach portions of the lessons in elementary school classes along the way.
Lauren will be joined by family, friends and fellow survivors as she visit local rape crisis and sexual assault program centers, schools and college campuses.
The walk throughout Florida began on Jan. 14 in Key West and will end in Tallahassee on Feb. 22, with a rally at the state Capitol.