Lauren's Kids

To prevent sexual abuse through awareness, education, and to help survivors heal with guidance and support

"You will be inspired by the powerful and courageous voice that has emerged from this young woman."

- Lisa Ling, Journalist From the forward of "It's Ok to Tell."

News

Lauren’s efforts have been featured in various news outlets across the country including Our America with Lisa Ling on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, the Associated Press, Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell on CNN’s HLN, and Maria Shriver’s blog.

Lauren’s Kids Celebrates 6,000 Miles Walked for Hope, Healing and Child Protection Legislation

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.

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Huffington Post: Sawubona: We See You

Read on The Huffington Post

True surviving doesn’t really begin until the abuse is over, when you’re left to pick up the pieces. To heal. To look at what has happened and to decide for yourself: What’s next?

I have spoken to this for years as a survivor who struggled with eating disorders and self-harm after disclosing the sexual abuse I endured for six years of my childhood. Healing is hard work. Surviving is hard work. Thriving is even harder.

And while I know that healing is a lifelong journey that can sometimes be two steps forward and three steps back, I am in a good place in my life. This year, I turned 29, got engaged, became an aunt and started to think about beginning a family of my own.

Then I got some news that hit me like a ton of bricks: because of the things my nanny Waldina did to me — using objects like forks, spoons, knives and lighters to torture and control me — I may not be able to conceive a child. And if I do conceive, there is a question about my ability to carry a child to term.

Not only did Waldina steal my childhood, she may have stolen the promise of childhood for another.

Last week, while walking through Tampa on my annual 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” walk across the state of Florida, I met a young woman named Betsy and was reminded that I am not alone. Betsy had a hysterectomy last year, knowing it was the right decision for her health in more than one way…on one hand, the procedure put an end to the medical complications she was suffering as a result of years of horrific and violent sexual abuse. On another, Betsy viewed this as an opportunity to rid herself of the “poison” her abuser put into her body.

True surviving doesn’t really begin until the abuse is over. When you’re left to pick up the pieces. To heal. To look at what has happened and to decide for yourself: What’s next?

But what if you don’t have the ability to choose? What if, like Betsy, and like me, that choice is taken from you?

When do survivors get to reclaim full control of their lives? When do we stop feeling tremors from the aftershock?

Just when you feel you’ve heard it all, seen it all, been through it all and have made it to the other side, another wave hits you. Another hidden scar is revealed.

I try to keep this in mind as I meet survivors like Betsy, like little Kaylee, like Daliana, Ken, Chris, Penny, Coley, Scott and the thousands of others who come walk with us for hope, healing and recovery.

I try to embrace the African Zulu greeting sawubona, which means, “we see you.” We are witness to your journey, to your hidden scars.

Step by step, mile by mile, day by day, survivor by survivor and story by story, sawubona.

This April, during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I challenge you to join me in sawubona. To pay attention to the issue of sexual violence, and to the people living in its aftermath. To be present to the issue, and to be a part of the solution. Because 95 percent of child sexual abuse is preventable through awareness and education. Learning, knowing, paying attention is more than half the battle.

Sawubona: we see you.

 

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Lauren’s Kids Hails Landmark Child Protection Legislation Signed Today by Florida Governor Rick Scott

Child advocate Lauren Book today applauded the Florida Legislature and Governor Rick Scott for their commitment to child safety by enacting swift and sweeping legislation to protect children from sexually violent predators. The priority legislation was taken up and unanimously passed by both the Florida Senate and House during the first week of the annual legislative session, and today’s bill signing coincides with the first day of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“Our state leaders showed true solidarity and commitment to ending sexual violence here in Florida,” said Lauren Book, the sexual abuse survivor and nationally recognized child protection advocate who founded Lauren’s Kids. “Each and every day, I talk with survivors and their families, listening to their stories and encouraging them with the very meaningful legislative changes that are happening in Tallahassee. I am honored to bring their voices to the Capitol, and proud to know that our state leaders are not only listening, but acting.”

The legislation, which is 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 legislative 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.

Key lawmakers – including Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senators Rob Bradley, Denise Grimsley, Eleanor Sobel and Lizbeth Benacquisto, and Representatives Gayle Harrell and Matt Gaetz – also attended the Capitol ceremony, which represents final action on a 2014 legislative policy priority.

Taking a brief detour from her 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” statewide journey, Lauren Book traveled to Tallahassee to be part of this momentous occasion. Also witnessing the historic event were dozens of survivors and advocates who gathered at the Manatee Glens Rape Crisis Center in Bradenton to watch the bill signing via a special two-way live stream set up for the occasion by Lauren’s Kids video technology partner Life Size.

“By signing these historic bills into law today, Governor Scott is sending a clear message that our state is committed to keeping children safe from predators,” said Ron Book, president of Lauren’s Kids and father of Lauren Book. “This legislation is another major step forward in protecting children and ensuring that Florida has zero tolerance for those who intend to harm our children.”

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:

  • 2010 – Extending Statute of Limitations: Eliminated the statute of limitations for both civil and criminal prosecutions for crimes committed against children younger than 16.
  • 2011 – Walk in Their Shoes Act: Expanded the admissibility of collateral crime evidence in cases where a person is charged with child molestation or a sexual offense.
  • 2012 – Protection of Vulnerable Persons: Requires that all Floridians report known or suspected child abuse and if a report is not made, the non-reporter will be charged with a felony. Also requires that colleges and universities report abuse or face up to a $1 million fine.
  • 2013 – Expanding the Hearsay Exception to Adolescent Victims of Sexual Abuse: Allows an out-of-court statement made by a victim up to age 16 as admissible evidence in a civil or criminal proceeding dependent upon certain findings of the court.

“The safety of Florida’s families, especially our children, is of paramount importance and I am proud to sign this legislation that adds protections for vulnerable Floridians during Sexual Assault Awareness Month,” said Governor Scott. “As a father of two girls and a grandfather of three boys, I think about how the legislation I am signing today will affect Florida’s families. It will make Florida’s children safer and adds protections for our communities, especially for our children. These measures will make a positive difference for generations to come.”

After the bill signing, Lauren Book will continue her 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” statewide journey, which raises awareness about the devastating effects of child sexual abuse, educates communities about prevention, encourages victims to speak up and get help, and promotes passage of tougher laws to protect children and punish perpetrators.

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Sexual Abuse Survivor and Advocate Applauds State Leaders for Child Protection Legislation as she Embarks on Fifth Statewide "Walk in My Shoes" Journey

Lauren Book says Florida Leads Nation in its Commitment to Child Protection

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., March 11, 2014 /PRNewswire/ – Just days away from beginning her fifth “Walk in My Shoes” journey across Florida, sexual abuse advocate Lauren Book recapped how far Florida has come in strengthening the law to protect children and applauded legislative leaders for swiftly passing sweeping legislation to strengthen Florida’s process for civilly committing sexually violent predators.

“I am proud to live in a state where our elected officials make protecting our children from dangerous predators a top priority,” Book said.  “When you look at the laws passed over the past five years, it’s clear that we’ve made a big impact and Florida is a safer place because of it.”

As the House prepared to take up a package of comprehensive, bipartisan reform legislation to protect children and punish offenders, Book held a news conference with legislative leaders outside the Florida House Chambers.  Book, who founded Lauren’s Kids to raise awareness about childhood sexual abuse and advocate for change, begins her fifth annual 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” walk across Florida on March 16 in Key West.  The Walk ends on April 22 on the steps of the Historic Capitol in Tallahassee.

Book used the occasion to recap legislative milestones of the past five years and to praise the 2014 Legislature for making child protective legislation a priority from the opening day of the legislative session.

The 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” statewide journey raises awareness about the devastating effects of child sexual abuse, educates communities about prevention, encourages victims to speak up and get help, and promotes passage of tougher laws to protect children and punish perpetrators.

“As both a parent and a legislator, ensuring the safety of children is one of my top priorities,” said Speaker of the House Will Weatherford. “I appreciate Lauren’s support for our ‘protecting vulnerable Floridians’ agenda.”

This bipartisan legislative package passed through the Florida Senate unanimously on the opening day of session.

“We walked into this session knowing that we wanted to address the laws governing the treatment of sexually violent predators,” said Senate President Don Gaetz. “By passing this legislation on day one, we’ve made it clear that this is an important issue and we will not allow dangerous predators who harm our children to walk the streets.”

Since the first “Walk in My Shoes” statewide journey five years ago, Lauren’s Kids has successfully advocated for the passage of many landmark laws, including:

2010 – Extending Statute of Limitations: Eliminated the statute of limitations for both civil and criminal prosecutions for crimes committed against children under 16.

2011 – Walk in Their Shoes Act: Expanded the admissibility of collateral crime evidence in cases where a person is charged with child molestation or a sexual offense.

2012 – Protection of Vulnerable Persons: Requires all Floridians report known or suspected child abuse and if a report is not made, the non-reporter will be charged with a felony. Also requires colleges and universities report abuse or face up to a $1 million fine.

2013 – Expanding the Hearsay Exception to Adolescent Victims of Sexual Abuse: Allows an out of court statement made by a victim up to the age of 16 as admissible evidence in a civil or criminal proceeding dependent upon certain findings of the court.

This year, Lauren’s Kids is championing legislation to close loopholes in the justice system, mandate community supervision of sex offenders and require college campuses to notify students and staff about sexual offenders who live nearby.

In addition, the organization is also supporting legislation to eliminate the statute of limitations for certain sexual crimes committed against a child younger than 16, increase mandatory minimum sentences for sexually violent predators and those who offend against people with developmental disabilities, and expand the identifying information sex offenders are required to register with law enforcement to include things such as email addresses, screen names and information on the vehicles offenders can access.

“We recognize that no single law or policy can end the scourge of child sexual abuse from our state,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, chair of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee. “But that must never stop us from being catalysts for change and continuing to push for legislation that moves us closer to a zero tolerance policy.”

Book said she is gratified by the large number of state leaders supporting these important measures. In addition to Speaker Weatherford, President Gaetz and Rep. Gaetz, she acknowledged the efforts of Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Rob Bradley, Garrett Richter, Jack Latvala, Joe Negron, Eleanor Sobel, Oscar Braynon, Greg Evers and Denise Grimsley, as well as Reps. Gayle Harrell, Travis Hutson, Daphne Campbell and Dane Eagle.

To download the Lauren’s Kids multimedia package, visit www.laurenskids.org/downloads.

Lauren’s Kids 
Lauren’s Kids is a nonprofit organization that works to prevent abuse and help survivors heal. The organization, which has offices in Aventura and Tallahassee, Florida, was started by Lauren Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who endured six years of abuse at the hands of her nanny. Lauren’s organization offers a 24-hour crisis hotline, prevention curriculum, annual 1,500-mile awareness walk and legislative advocacy. For more information, visit laurenskids.org.


 

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The Tampa Tribune: Fla. legislatures to pass sexual predator laws

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida legislators from both parties are coming to the Capitol next week in agreement that some of the first bills they’ll pass could have saved the life of an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl.

The death of Cherish Perrywinkle, who was abducted at a Wal-Mart, combined with a newspaper investigation into the state’s sexual predator civil commitment program have created a rarely seen unity in a process that’s more often known for division and political differences.

And a package of bills that deal with sexual offender laws is ready for a vote as soon as the Senate begins its annual 60-day session. The House is expected to approve them the following week.

“If the laws we are proposing today would have been the laws a year or two years ago, Cherish Perrywinkle would be alive,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar and the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee chairman.

The main goal of the proposed laws will be to strengthen the Jimmy Ryce Act, which allows for the civil commitment of sexual predators once they finish their prison terms. The law named for a 9-year-old boy who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in Miami-Dade County is designed to keep the most violent sexual predators locked up. But it’s become clear since it took effect in 1999 that there are loopholes.

A review team evaluates predators on a psychological basis to determine if they are a still a threat after their sentences. If they believe so, a trial is held and if a jury agrees, the predator is committed to what looks like a prison, but is technically a psychiatric treatment center. People who are committed are reevaluated and can be released if determined that they are no longer a risk – though officials who run the treatment center have said they are never truly “cured.”

Cherish and her mother were shopping when a man befriended them and offered to buy them clothing and food, investigators say. Smith said he was taking Cherish to a McDonald’s in the Wal-Mart but he instead led her out of the store. Her body was found the next day. She had been strangled. A registered sex offender, Donald Smith, is charged with her murder. Smith was released from jail the month before the death after being caught making obscene phone calls to a 10-year-old girl, making verbal threats and impersonating Florida Department of Children and Families child protective investigator.

Smith has a long history of sex offenses dating to a 1993 conviction for attempted kidnapping and selling obscene material. He had already been reviewed for civil commitment two times previously, but he wasn’t eligible for another review after being released just before the Perrywinkle killing. Only offenders serving prison terms can be considered for commitment and Smith was in jail on misdemeanor charges after a plea deal.

“This tragic, horrific case really shined a light on some of those really big gaping holes in the law that couldn’t be ignored,” said Lauren Book, a sexual abuse survivor who now advocates for tougher laws.

For more than a decade, Book and her father, lobbyist Ron Book, have sought bills to prevent abuse, help victims and punish offenders each legislative session. Book said she’s never seen such a thoughtful, cooperative approach by lawmakers to tighten sexual offense laws.

“To have these bills the first day of the legislative session – it’s unheard of. I’m at a loss for words,” she said.

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