As we unlaced our sneakers for the final time this year and relaxed our tired muscles, I thought of all the wonderful people we met and inspiring stories we heard on this year’s Walk in My Shoes journey! When you walk 1,500 miles across Florida, your body feels completely worn out — but when you know there are 42 million people in the world that have been sexually abused, the physical challenge of walking is insignificant. We walked 42 days for the 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse and to protect childhood for many more.
If you have been following our weekly Walk in My Shoes blog posts, you have heard some of the stories of the people we have met along the way. Some walked for family members, for friends, for neighbors, for the cause and others walked for themselves. No matter the path taken to get to the starting line, when we pounded the pavement together we all walked for a united purpose: to help everyone understand that it’s OK to tell and to prevent one more child from falling victim to child sexual abuse. Powerful things happen when tens of thousands of survivors and advocates gather together to spread the message of hope and healing.
This year was a special year for Walk in My Shoes. While we walked with old friends, we also met many new ones and held new events this year. We were able to share our first children’s book, Lauren’s Kingdom, giving us the opportunity to hold book readings at each stop and share a message with children that “If you’re choking back tears and your heart’s filled with fears…You know very well, it’s OK to tell.”
This past week, we were fortunate to have Coach Sue from the Florida State Women’s Basketball Team speak at the Take Back the Night candlelight vigil. Governor Rick Scott, Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera and other state leaders stood with us and spoke at the Rally in Tally. It was so encouraging to see people from all across the state come together for the final events at the Capitol.
At the Rally in Tally, I asked the kids, “What is an advocate?” and they proudly yelled, “We are!” I then asked, “What does an advocate do?” and the children replied, “Use their voice!” That is why we walk – to empower children to use their voices!
Following the Rally, we held Buddy’s Backyard Bash where children learned about personal and community safety from the Safer, Smarter Kids curriculum while also enjoying face painting, fun games and free food!
We may be unlacing our sneakers but we will not stop fighting. We cannot stop until every child is safe and knows that it’s OK to tell. We cannot stop until every victim of child sexual abuse knows they are not alone and they have the power to become thriving survivors. It is so important to continue sharing our message of hope, healing and recovery. While April is officially Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month, we will continue working to empower survivors and prevent abuse through education and awareness all year long.