I remember meeting Lauren Book four years ago in the office of her father, lobbyist Ron Book. This blonde and beautiful 23-year-old girl wanted to walk 500 miles across Florida to raise awareness about childhood sexual abuse. The Books wanted our advice.
That day, I heard her story for the first time. I would hear it many, many more times in media interviews, public speeches and legislative testimony in the four years to come. Physically, sexually and emotionally abused by her family’s trusted nanny from age 11 to 17. It was riveting. Shocking.
After I heard it, I felt compelled to tell her something that I had told few people. One stormy afternoon when I was 11, I ran to the home of a close family friend, someone we called “cousin,” because I was scared. He touched me inappropriately. I made excuses and went home confused, disgusted.
As I disclosed this, I saw Ron and Lauren exchange a knowing look. This happens all the time. Time after time, when they meet with someone to promote their important cause, the door will be closed, and that person’s own story of abuse will come out, often for the first time. And tears will fall.
When Lauren talks about the statistics – 1 in 3 girls, 1 in 5 boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday – the disclosures make sense. There are so many stories, and so many are never told.
When I disclosed to my parents what had happened to me, they believed and supported me but also suggested that I not tell anyone. So for years, I didn’t. Until one night in high school when I was having a sleepover with a friend and something triggered me to tell the story. My friend’s eyes got wide and she told me that something similar had happened to her with a friend of her family.
As Lauren says, most victims are abused, not by a stranger, but by someone they know, love and trust.
At the moment my friend shared her story, I felt the relief of knowing that I was not alone.
That emboldened me to tell my older sisters, who were outraged, who wanted to kill this family friend who did this awful thing. Their anger made me stronger, helped me move on.
It reinforces Lauren’s anthem, “It’s Okay to Tell,” which actually could be rephrased to be, “It’s essential to tell,” “It’s life-affirming to tell,” because you are not alone. Once you really get that you are not alone, it’s easier to be strong and feel okay.
When I think about how long it took me to work through and get over that single incident – the confusion, the rage, the shame, the self-condemnation – I am in absolute awe of Lauren’s metamorphosis. Abused daily for six years, she overcame eating disorders and self-mutilation to become, as she puts it, not just a survivor, but a thriver.
Even more, she has blossomed into a leader.
Life has a way of bringing us full circle, of putting us together with people who help us make sense of our own story and move the plot forward. What a privilege to know Lauren Book, to get to use my professional skills to support her agenda of preventing childhood sexual abuse, educating children and parents, and helping victims heal.
That’s my back story. Lauren has brought her back story into the light and, with the courage it takes to do that every day, has used it to save and transform lives. I’m proud to call her my friend.