Child advocate Lauren Book today applauded the Florida Legislature and Governor Rick Scott for their commitment to child safety by enacting swift and sweeping legislation to protect children from sexually violent predators. The priority legislation was taken up and unanimously passed by both the Florida Senate and House during the first week of the annual legislative session, and today’s bill signing coincides with the first day of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“Our state leaders showed true solidarity and commitment to ending sexual violence here in Florida,” said Lauren Book, the sexual abuse survivor and nationally recognized child protection advocate who founded Lauren’s Kids. “Each and every day, I talk with survivors and their families, listening to their stories and encouraging them with the very meaningful legislative changes that are happening in Tallahassee. I am honored to bring their voices to the Capitol, and proud to know that our state leaders are not only listening, but acting.”
The legislation, which is part of the Legislature’s “Protecting Florida’s Vulnerable” initiative, closes loopholes in the justice system, mandates community supervision of sex offenders, and increases mandatory minimum sentences for sexually violent predators and those who offend against people with developmental disabilities.
In addition, the legislative package contains provisions that eliminate the statute of limitations for certain sexual crimes committed against a child younger than 16; require college campuses to notify students and staff about sexual offenders who live nearby; and expand the identifying information sex offenders are required to provide to law enforcement to include such things as email addresses, screen names and information on the vehicles they drive.
Key lawmakers – including Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senators Rob Bradley, Denise Grimsley, Eleanor Sobel and Lizbeth Benacquisto, and Representatives Gayle Harrell and Matt Gaetz – also attended the Capitol ceremony, which represents final action on a 2014 legislative policy priority.
Taking a brief detour from her 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” statewide journey, Lauren Book traveled to Tallahassee to be part of this momentous occasion. Also witnessing the historic event were dozens of survivors and advocates who gathered at the Manatee Glens Rape Crisis Center in Bradenton to watch the bill signing via a special two-way live stream set up for the occasion by Lauren’s Kids video technology partner Life Size.
“By signing these historic bills into law today, Governor Scott is sending a clear message that our state is committed to keeping children safe from predators,” said Ron Book, president of Lauren’s Kids and father of Lauren Book. “This legislation is another major step forward in protecting children and ensuring that Florida has zero tolerance for those who intend to harm our children.”
Since the first “Walk in My Shoes” statewide journey five years ago, Lauren’s Kids has successfully advocated for the passage of numerous landmark laws, including:
- 2010 – Extending Statute of Limitations: Eliminated the statute of limitations for both civil and criminal prosecutions for crimes committed against children younger than 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 age 16 as admissible evidence in a civil or criminal proceeding dependent upon certain findings of the court.
“The safety of Florida’s families, especially our children, is of paramount importance and I am proud to sign this legislation that adds protections for vulnerable Floridians during Sexual Assault Awareness Month,” said Governor Scott. “As a father of two girls and a grandfather of three boys, I think about how the legislation I am signing today will affect Florida’s families. It will make Florida’s children safer and adds protections for our communities, especially for our children. These measures will make a positive difference for generations to come.”
After the bill signing, Lauren Book will continue her 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” statewide journey, which 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.
To learn more about Lauren’s Kids, visit www.laurenskids.org.
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.