Walk for childhood sexual abuse comes to Tampa

02/07/12 Janelle Irwin
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Supporters of a Florida non-profit are walking across the state this month to raise awareness of childhood sexual abuse. Lauren’s Kids was founded by Lauren Book who was sexually abused by her nanny for four years. At a stop yesterday in Tampa at Mary Lee’s House, she said the walk is a physical representation of the long recovery process for victims.

“The first walk we met a young woman who was brutally, brutally, brutally raped in her apartment. The assailant kind of barged in with her, raped her, violent. When she was at the hospital, her mother and her sister had to go back to the apartment and clean the walls of the apartment, clean the carpet, clean the blood off so when she went home she didn’t have to see that because she couldn’t break her lease. She didn’t have the money to leave.”

Each year Book and her followers have added more stops along their walk from South Florida to Tallahassee. This year they are walking a total of 1500 miles beginning in Key West. Book gives talks at schools and crisis centers about a curriculum she and her foundation created to educate kids on how to avoid sexual abuse.

"So, let’s say you see your friend climbing to the top of the swing set. What are you going to do? Is that safe or unsafe? Well, it’s unsafe; he could fall, he could get hurt. Ok, well what are you going to do? Well, I’m going to tell my grown up buddy. And who’s your grown up buddy on the playground? Well, it’s my teacher. Ok, so now is that tattling or reporting? It’s reporting because it’s dealing with safety. Ok, so let’s say you’re in science class and you’re coloring grass and your next door neighbor stole all the green crayons and won’t share them. If you go tell a teacher is that tattling or reporting? That’s tattling. Why? Because I can use my words to get the crayon that I need."

Last Spring at the end of the legislative session, the Lauren’s Kids foundation was given a $1.5 million appropriation by the state to create and distribute the educational materials to elementary schools in Florida. The handouts, videos and pamphlets also teach the tell tale signs of abuse to teachers and parents. Book said some of the information included isn’t taught in college curricula.

"I was always told you look for a police officer or a fireman or a manager of the store. Well, I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m in Target, I can never find somebody who works there to help me. There is never a fireman or a police man. So, we teach our kids to go find a mom with kids because a mom with kids does not want any more kids and will make sure that that child gets to where they need to go."

Book expects all Florida elementary schools to have access to the program by the end of this month. Book is also working with her father, Tallahassee lobbyist Ron Book, to get legislation passed to help victims. Together, they pushed the Lauren Book Protection Act which makes it illegal for convicted abusers to contact their victims. They are also pushing to impose strict fines on higher learning institutions.

"For colleges and universities that complicitly cover up childhood sexual abuse they’ll be fined one million dollars and state funding will be withheld for two years. So for a university like the University of Miami, they would lose 30 million dollars."

The Book duo also helped get legislation passed to eliminate the statute of limitations on filing childhood sexual abuse charges. Lauren Book said it took her years of abuse before she found the courage to come forward and this law gives victims the time they need. She said her abuser held her emotionally captive in an inappropriate relationship by exploiting her loneliness.

"That when anybody gives this much to a child who has this much, very, very, very dangerous and terrible things will happen. And I think, for me, I was caretaker for Sam. I was the caretaker for Chase. I was the caretaker for my mother and for the household. And when somebody came in – and while I hated her in the beginning – who, I don’t have to make dinner? I don’t have to do homework? I don’t have to make dinner? I don’t have to worry about my mom’s attitude today."

Book has since authored a book called It’s OK to tell. In it she shares the details of her abuse from start to finish. She said it was hard to confront those demons, but it was all part of her recovery. She also hopes her story will inspire other victims to come forward.

"My husband left me, he had an affair. There are days that I don’t want to leave my bedroom. There are days that I throw – like, I don’t have my stuff together. Just because it looks like I do it doesn’t mean that I haven’t had to do the work that I didn’t come from a bad place. I was burning, I was cutting, I was taking medication that I shouldn’t have been taking. I came from a bad place. I was anorexic. I weighed 70 pounds. I tried to kill myself."

Lauren and Ron Book are pushing for even more laws to help victims, including increased funding for rehabilitative services. The walk will end with a rally in Tallahassee on February 22.

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