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 the Nation in its Commitment to Child Protection
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – 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 will end 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 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 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 is a non-profit 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, elementary school prevention curriculum, annual 1,500-mile awareness walk, legislative advocacy and speaking engagements. For more information, visit laurenskids.org.
Here is a download link for video of today’s press conference with sexual assault survivor Lauren Book, who begins her fifth annual “Walk in My Shoes” walk this Sunday in Key West. Book will walk 1,500 miles across Florida to encourage lawmakers to pass stricter laws protecting children against sexual abuse. This video includes two comments from Lauren Book and two comments from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and also includes some b-roll from the press conference.