National Sexual Assault Awareness Month is coming close to an end, and one sexual abuse survivor in Florida is hoping to spread awareness about sexual abuse prevention. Victims Advocate Lauren Book joined Governor Rick Scott, members of the Cabinet, and Florida lawmakers in the last leg of her fourth annual “Walk in My Shoes” Journey.
To the song of Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter,” Lauren Book, a sexual abuse survivor, is crossing the finish line with her father as well as thousands of other runners to the steps of the Old Historic Capitol in Tallahassee. Book survived the abuse of her nanny for five years since she was age 11, and now she’s hoping to spread awareness of sexual abuse and ways to help victims.
One such way, is her fourth annual 1,500 mile “Walk In My Shoes” Journey, which she completed Tuesday. She says along the 36-day journey she made across the state, she was touched by many stories, including one from a cheerleading coach.
“A cheerleading coach stopped me and said ‘one of my 9th graders last week was raped during Spring Break. What do I do? Where does she go?’ Because of the way we structured the walk, we were able to connect her with services for that young girl and for the entire cheer squad, so we can prevent those types of crimes from happening," said Lauren Book.
Well-known South Florida Lobbyist Ron Book, Lauren’s father, says he regards his daughter, and survivors like her as his heroes, since he knows it’s something they still have to struggle with every day.
“And, while Lauren looks like the most put together human-being in the world, it doesn’t stop her from going through flashbacks. And, when she goes to an ordinary dentist to have her teeth cleaned and has to be put to sleep because of what the bad guys did to her. Let me tell you something! There is no statute of limitations on your recovery as victims and survivors, and there shouldn’t be against putting the bad guys and gals in prisons. And, we don’t have a statute of limitations because of this Legislature! Keep putting them away,” said Ron Book.
And, Florida Governor Rick Scott agrees. He made an appearance at a rally, following the end of the run, to tell Lauren Book how inspired he is by her.
“Lauren, I'm so impressed with what you've accomplished and the awareness you've raised. And, I look forward to being part of this for the rest of my life,” said Scott.
He also drew applause when he talked about the money he had in his proposed budget to help abuse victims.
“In support of sexual abuse victims across the state, as part of my budget, I proposed 2.5 million dollars and I’m very excited the House and the Senate are going along with that,” Scott added.
Scott also told the public to make sure they hold lawmakers feet to the fire to make sure the money is there for abuse victims, and Senate President Don Gaetz could not agree more.
“I’m inside that building fighting to make sure we provide the funding to deal with the issues that have disheveled your lives and have to be dealt with in order to protect the children of Florida," said Gaetz.
"So, I’m going to go back and join my good friend [House Speaker] Will Weatherford who stands with us in fighting for funding, in fighting for the right legislation, in which children can be safe and Florida can have justice.”
And, Lauren Book, says one thing she hopes people take away is her slogan, part of one of her awareness campaigns, “It’s Okay To Tell.”
“Children survivors need to know that it’s okay to tell. No matter where you are in your journey. No matter how old you are. We had a woman call our hotline who was 90-years-old, and we were able to get her counseling. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter where you are in the journey. Please know that it is okay to tell, that you don’t need to suffer in silence,” said Lauren Book.
Both Book and her father have worked with lawmakers in the past on different legislation to help victims. This year, they’re hoping to get a bill passed that would raise the age for child abuse victims who want an alternative to having to face their abuser in court. The bill has already passed the House. Meanwhile, its Senate companion is still stalled in the committee process.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.