This story was originally posted on CapitalSoup.com:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — For six years Lauren Book, founder and CEO of Lauren’s Kids, has walked across Florida educating the public about child sexual abuse prevention and encouraging survivors with the message that it’s OK to tell. Yesterday, Book brought the latest Walk in My Shoesjourney to an uplifting and energizing conclusion at the steps of the Historic State Capitol, where she was joined by state leaders including Florida Governor Rick Scott, Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Senate President Andy Gardiner, Senator Bill Montford, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
Surrounded by enthusiastic state officials, community leaders, survivors, families and educators, Book reinforced at the “Rally in Tally” that the key to preventing abuse is educating children and parents about warning signs and safety protocols, in order to end the cycle of abuse once and for all.
“Each year I walk the state of Florida, I am reminded of how far we’ve come in the fight to protect childhood…but also, how far we as a state – and a society – still have yet to go,” Book said. “I walk to let other survivors know that they’re not alone, and that they need not be afraid or ashamed. I walk to spread the message that there is no type of public education more important than teaching children how to stay safe and speak up when something feels wrong. I walk to raise awareness and educate communities because together, we can protect our children from this unthinkable harm.”
Joined by survivors and supporters from across the state as she trekked the “Final Mile” of her 2015 Walk in My Shoes journey, Book has now logged more than 7,500 miles since 2010 in the pursuit of child safety in Florida…and she’s not stopping there. Yesterday, Book pledged to continue her efforts into 2016 and beyond.
Immediately following the rally at the Capitol, families from the Capital City and from across the state gathered a block away for the first-ever “Buddy Bash” Finale Block Party. The safety festival featured kid-friendly activities including Safer, Smarter Kids education stations – rooted in Lauren’s Kids’ curriculum materials – emphasizing personal and community safety, face painting, a bounce house, therapy animals, live music and interactive art.
On the evening of April 21, Lauren’s Kids hosted their annual “Take Back the Night” college student candlelight vigil at Doug Burnett Park in Tallahassee with students and victims advocates from local colleges and universities. With many sexual assault incidents occurring on campuses across the country, the event focused on giving a voice to survivors and pledging solidarity in both healing and prevention.
Book overcame years of sexual abuse to become an internationally recognized child advocate. Armed with the knowledge that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys are sexually abused before age 18, and95 percent of that abuse is preventable with awareness and education, Book launched the Walk in My Shoes six years ago to raise awareness about child sexual abuse and to empower survivors.
Focusing this year’s Walk on education, Book stopped at schools across the state to teach lessons from the Lauren’s Kids abuse prevention curriculum Safer, Smarter Kids, encouraging kids that it’s OK to tell, and read her new children’s book, Lauren’s Kingdom, which sparked at least one, life-saving, child’s disclosure of abuse. The curriculum’s age-appropriate lessons and videos focus on teaching from a place of fun, not fear, incorporating such topics as personal boundaries, bullying, Internet safety and how to access help. The curriculum was expanded to grades 1-3 this school year and implemented through regional Teachers’ Institutes, and the fourth- through twelfth-grade curricula are to be released in the 2015-16 school year. The final Teachers’ Institute will be May 7-8 in Fort Lauderdale, open to public school Kindergarten through third grade educators.
Governor Scott said, “While Florida is at a 44-year crime low, we must continue to protect and raise awareness for the lives affected by abuse in our communities. Our goal is to make Florida the safest state in the nation to raise a family, and the work of Lauren Book and the Lauren’s Kids organization are helping make that a reality.”
Last month on the eve of the Walk launch, Lauren’s Kids provided Florida legislators with a detailed research study that documents the drastic effects of child sexual abuse on Florida taxpayers. The full study and an infographic highlighting its findings are available on the Lauren’s Kids website.
“We cannot expect children to learn when their basic needs are not being met and we know that when a child is not protected from harm, their opportunity to learn is severely limited,” said Senator Bill Montford, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “Lauren’s Kids provided important school-based and community education and awareness through the Safer, Smarter Kids curriculum and the Buddy Bash event today.”
Book voiced support throughout the Walk for child protection bills in the Legislature, including HB 7001 and SB 542 that work to allow the evidentiary use of secret recordings of child predators in court proceedings, which was prompted by the McDade v. State supreme court decision where recordings of an offender were ruled inadmissible as evidence to convict him, and CS/HB 133 andSB 1270 that extend the statute of limitations from four years to 10 years for victims age 16 or older.
Lauren’s Kids is a nonprofit organization founded and led by Lauren Book, M.S.Ed. She is a child sexual abuse survivor, child advocate and educator who works to prevent child abuse and help survivors heal. Through in-school curriculum, legislative advocacy and speaking engagements, the Lauren’s Kids team works to educate and raise awareness about the growing issue of child sexual abuse. For more information, visit www.LaurensKids.org.”