Child sexual abuse survivor and advocate Lauren Book is joining with the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association to promote the passage of legislation that would make an out-of-court statement from child victims of sexual abuse a stronger trial tool against their alleged abusers. Book’s non-profit organization, Lauren’s Kids, also is seeking to expand Florida’s existing abuse prevention curriculum through fifth grade.
Under current Florida law, out-of-court statements – such as transcripts of forensic interviews – made by a child victim with a physical, mental, emotional or developmental age of 11 or less may be admissible as evidence in some child sex abuse cases. Book and Florida’s State Attorneys want to see this option extended to children up to 16 years old, as contained in HB 7031.
“Facing my abuser in court was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but under Florida law, it was necessary for me to appear in court to testify in order to bring my abuser to justice,” Book said. “This is such a traumatizing experience for children who are victims of sexual abuse that many victims would prefer to forgo justice rather than face their abuser in open court.”
The legislation is intended to give prosecutors additional tools to get sex offenders off the streets and keep better track of them when they are in the community.
“Giving our prosecutors additional tools to get sexual offenders off the street and to end the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse is a critical state priority,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the bill sponsors.
Florida’s state attorneys believe that revising the state’s current victimless prosecution law to be more inclusive would help prosecutors increase the number of trials and convictions against sexual predators.
“The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association is supportive of HB 7031,” said Bill Eddins, FPAA president and State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit. “We believe it will help us significantly in the prosecution and conviction of sexual predators and offenders.”
Next week, Book kicks off her fourth annual “Walk in My Shoes” statewide awareness journey, beginning on March 19 in Key West and traveling 1,500-miles to Tallahassee, where Book will end “Walk in My Shoes” with a Rally in Tally on the steps of the Historic Capitol on April 23. State Attorneys in districts across the state will join Book to advocate for victimless prosecution and the passage of HB 7031.
During each week of Book’s six-week Walk, she will be highlighting a different aspect of child sexual abuse: Signs, Disclosure and Reporting; Predators: Grooming/Pedophile Tactics; Prevalence and Healing; Effects of Child Sexual Abuse; the Role of Youth-Serving Organizations; Education and Prevention. A series of educational web videos corresponding to each topic will be posted each week, featuring experts, survivors and a convicted child molester.
Armed with the knowledge that 95 percent of sexual abuse is preventable with education and awareness, Book is on a mission to shine light on the dark issue of abuse in Florida. Her organization, Lauren’s Kids, has partnered with the Florida Department of Children and Families to launch the “Don’t Miss the Signs” campaign, which aims to educate adults on signs of child abuse and how to make a report. She is also seeking to expand the state’s existing kindergarten abuse prevention curriculum to include grades one through five, incorporating such topics as bullying and Internet safety.
In 2011, the Florida Legislature allocated funds for the development and distribution of an abuse prevention curriculum for kindergarten students. The curriculum, Safer, Smarter Kids, has since been demonstrated to increase children’s knowledge of critical personal safety information by 77 percent.
Lauren’s Kids is a non-profit organization that works to prevent abuse and help survivors heal. The organization, headquartered in Aventura, Florida, was started by Lauren Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who endured abuse at the hands of her nanny for six years. Her organization offers a 24-hour crisis hotline, elementary school prevention curriculum, an annual 1,500-mile awareness walk, legislative advocacy and speaking engagements. For more information, visit laurenskids.org.