Walk in My Shoes: Week 1

Hello walkers, friends and supporters!

It’s been a busy first week and a half on the road – we started Walk in My Shoes 2013 on March 19 at the SouthernMost Point of the United States in Key West, and have since made our way up through Homestead, Miami, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Vero (click here to see pictures!). Today we crossed over to the West coast of Florida and are looking forward to spending the weekend walking through Ft. Myers and Naples.

At each stop we’ve made, I have had experiences that remind me why I walk 1,500 miles across the state annually. Day one, right after our incredible rally at Publix (Thank you Ken Phifer – we love, love, love your Publix! It was amazing to see EVERYONE wearing our Walk in My Shoes shirts!), I met a cheerleading coach who told me about one of her ninth graders that was raped on spring break this year. We walked and talked and were able to connect her with Christina’s Courage, the sexual assault treatment center that serves the Keys. I am proud to say that because of work Lauren’s Kids has done with the Florida Legislature, this girl, and all victims, receive counseling free of charge so they can get help in making the transition from victim to survivor.

I’ve had the honor of participating in roundtable discussions with survivors at sexual assault treatment centers, with law enforcement and child protection specialists at the Broward Sherriff’s Office and with education experts at the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern. This week, I’ve been especially focused on the topics of the signs of abuse, what to do when a child discloses abuse and the abuse reporting process — click here to watch short, educational videos on each of these topics, featuring interviews with experts, survivors and a convicted pedophile.

We’ve also been blessed with the support of the Miami HEAT and Coach Spoelstra as they bring us into the national spotlight and help us bring awareness to our cause, and the Miami Dolphins, who have walked with us for the past few days and helped us assemble rape care kits for Kristi House, along with many of their wives (thank you Mrs. Philbin!). These guys are great athletes, but they have even greater hearts.

The Walk is always physically and emotionally challenging for me, especially when we’re in my hometown of Miami/Aventura, walking with my sexual assault treatment center (the Nancy J. Cotterman Center, formally known as the Broward County Sexual Assault Treatment Center). I remember the six years of abuse, manipulation, shame, silence and fear. I also remember the hopelessness – the feeling that this was my reality and it was never going to change – and with each step I take, I am walking away from that dark, abusive reality of the past, and into one I that have created for myself. A much brighter one where I am my own person: an advocate, an educator and a thriving survivor who works to protect kids.

This is why we walk.