Childhood sexual abuse survivor Lauren Book today celebrated Florida’s most successful legislative session for child protection, climbing the steps of Florida’s Historic Capitol to conclude her fifth-annual 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” walk from Key West to Tallahassee.
Book, a sexual abuse survivor, educator and nationally recognized child protection advocate, was greeted by state dignitaries as she took her final steps, completing her journey across the state. In total Book, who founded Lauren’s Kids to provide a voice to children suffering in silence from sexual abuse, has traversed more than 6,000 miles – equivalent of walking from Miami to San Francisco and back.
“Step by step, I have walked the state of Florida five times to bring hope and healing to communities,” said Book. “These new laws demonstrate the commitment Florida’s state leaders place on protecting our children. The legislation represents another step toward eliminating such tragedies from the lives of children across our state.”
“Congratulations to Lauren’s Kids for another successful year of advocating for Florida’s most vulnerable,” said Governor Rick Scott. “Working together and with the Legislature, we took a big step this year by signing tougher laws to help protect our kids. We must continue to work to ensure that all of our children can lead safe and healthy lives.”
The legislation, part of the legislature’s “Protecting Florida’s Vulnerable” initiative, closes loopholes in the justice system, mandates community supervision of sex offenders, and increases mandatory minimum sentences for sexually violent predators and those who offend against people with developmental disabilities.
In addition, the package contains provisions that eliminate the statute of limitations for certain sexual crimes committed against a child younger than 16; require college campuses to notify students and staff about sexual offenders who live nearby; and expand the identifying information sex offenders are required to provide to law enforcement to include such things as email addresses, screen names and information on the vehicles they drive.
The Florida Senate unanimously passed the package of legislation on the first day of the 2014 session and the Florida House followed suit soon after.
“The issue of protecting our children transcends party lines and political boundaries,” said Florida Senate President Don Gaetz. “It was an honor to work with my colleagues to pass the most comprehensive sexual abuse prevention and child protection legislation in the nation.”
Key leaders – including Governor Rick Scott, Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Commissioner Adam Putnam, House Speaker Will Weatherford, and Representative Matt Gaetz – also attended the “Rally in Tally” to conclude Lauren Book’s walk.
Others in attendance included Wansley Walters, Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice; Jennifer Dritt, Executive Director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence; members of Bikers Against Child Abuse; Kristen Kanner, Director of Department of Children and Families’ Sexually Violent Predator Program and countless other survivors and advocates.
“Protecting vulnerable Floridians was an important part of this year’s joint House and Senate agenda,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford. “Our efforts to strengthen Florida’s laws against predators will ensure that our children will remain safer for generations to come.”
Since the first “Walk in My Shoes” statewide journey five years ago, Lauren’s Kids has successfully advocated for the passage of numerous landmark laws, including eliminating the statute of limitations, expanding the admissibility of collateral crime evidence, requiring Floridians to report known or suspected child abuse, and expanding the hearsay exception to adolescent victims of sexual abuse.
“This legislation sends a strong message to those who would think about harming our children, that Florida is a zero-tolerance state for child sexual abuse,” said Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, chair of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. “No child has ever been raped from the inside of a prison cell and that is why we advocate for these strict penalties.”
There are more than 42 million survivors of sexual abuse in America. Moving forward, Lauren’s Kids is focusing its efforts on expanding its Safer, Smarter Kids curriculum to even more children in Florida.
Safer, Smarter Kids is an abuse prevention education curriculum for kindergarteners in Florida that covers such topics as safety awareness, body boundaries and the importance of having trusted adults. Students who received the curriculum showed a 77 percent learning gain in their knowledge of personal safety.