Florida Lawmakers Pass Bill To Strengthen Child Protection

By: Emily Johnson, Winnie Wright, Julie Montanaro Email
By: Emily Johnson, Winnie Wright, Julie Montanaro Email
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News Release: Lauren's Kids
Updated: May 2, 2014

TALLAHASSEE – Members of the Florida Legislature today passed bills containing measures to strengthen child protection in the Sunshine Sate, including provisions that require the words “Sexual Predator” to appear on the driver’s licenses of sexually violent predators and terminate parental rights for those convicted and required to register with a designation as a sexual predator; these measures were introduced at the urging of child protection advocate and sexual abuse survivor Lauren Book.

Under current Florida law, a statutory reference -- 775.21, F.S. -- appears on the driver’s licenses of sexual predators. Under SB 7005, a Department of Highway and Motor Vehicles package, the statutory reference will be replaced with the words “Sexual Predator.”

“This designation is a tool that we as community members – from law enforcement officers to TSA agents to teachers, daycare workers, doctors, nurses and everyone in between – can use to further protect the children and families of Florida,” says Book. “I believe a statutory reference is too benign. This is a scarlet letter that clearly states ‘WARNING! Keep this individual away from children!’ They are a clear and imminent danger, and parents and families have a right to know.”

House and Senate members also worked together to pass SB 1666, a bill enacts sweeping reforms after the legislature and the Governor learned of the untimely, tragic and often violent deaths of 477 innocent children since 2008, as chronicled by the Miami Herald in its investigative series “Innocents Lost.” SB 1666 also includes provisions to increase accountability for child protective workers and community-based care programs, create rapid-response teams to conduct immediate investigations into child deaths and measures to strengthen the state’s ability to remove a child from an unsafe home after parents have demonstrated patterns of abuse or neglect. As part of this bill, Lauren Book strongly encouraged bill sponsors Senator Sobel and Rep. Harrell to add a measure mandating termination of parental rights for sexual predators.

“Having walked more than 6,000 miles across the state of Florida over the past five years,” says Book, in reference to her annual “Walk in My Shoes” walk across Florida, “I have heard countless stories from victims and their families about predators who are convicted of molesting children, and go to jail and serve time only to come home to prey on those most vulnerable: their own children. In the few short hours since the bill has passed, we have had affected families reach out to thank us for our efforts. I know this is going to make a real difference for them.”

The passage of these bills comes just weeks after Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a comprehensive, bipartisan legislative package into law as part of “Protecting Florida’s Vulnerable” initiative on the first day of April, which is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. These newly signed Florida laws close loopholes in the justice system, mandate community supervision of sex offenders, and increase mandatory minimum sentences for sexually violent predators and those who offend against people with developmental disabilities.

In addition, the laws contain 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.

Advocate Lauren Book, founder and CEO of Lauren’s Kids, recently completed her fifth annual 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” walk across Florida over 42 days during March and April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, in honor of the 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S. Each year, Book walks to bring hope, healing and recovery to survivors of abuse and their family members. Through Book’s legislative advocacy, more than a dozen Florida laws have been changed to prevent abuse and provide support for survivors. Her organization’s abuse prevention curriculum, Safer, Smarter Kids, is taught in more than 16,000 classrooms across Florida. She is the 2013 L’Oreal Paris Woman of Worth.

Updated By: Julie Montanaro
April 22, 2014, 6pm

A Florida woman who was sexually abused by her nanny just finished walking from Key West to Tallahassee.

Lauren Book says she realized early on that she wasn't walking for herself, but for an estimated one in three girls and one in five boys - who are sexually abused by the age of 18.

A wave of teal t-shirts conquered the last hill of a 1500 mile journey up Apalachee Parkway to the Florida Capitol to raise awareness of child sex abuse and encourage victims to speak up.

Lauren Book - who was abused by her nanny as a child - started these walks five years ago. She has listened to the stories of other sex abuse survivors and earned the ears of Florida lawmakers - who this year passed a package of laws cracking down on sexual offenders - especially those who target children.

'For children that we've not met yet... for children who aren't born yet...thank you...thank you for seeing us, thank you for hearing us..." said Book.

Sex abuse survivor Daliana Goins says she never told anyone about the abuse she suffered as a child until she was 22 years old. She doesn't want that for other children.

"I didn't have a voice, I want them to have a voice, I want them to have somebody that is safe that they can come to - to talk to, to say "this is what I'm going through and I know that you're going to believe me...'" said Goins.

Book has not only pushed for changes in Florida law to crack down on sexual predators ... but has also lobbied schools to teach elementary school students what abuse is and how to report it.

Updated By: Winnie Wright
April 21, 2014, 11pm

Lauren Book and her supporters have walked from Key West all the way to Florida's Capitol to raise awareness about sexual abuse and encourage survivors to speak out. Monday, Book encouraged victims to "Take Back The Night" during a candlelight vigil at the Historic Capitol Building.

"Nobody deserves to be seuxually abused, even people with special needs, like me", says sexual abuse survivor, Chris Swinehart.

Chris, other survivors, and supporters shared their stories under the teal lights of the Historic Captiol Monday. Many have shared Book's journey through Florida to raise awareness during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

"I believe her walk through Florida truthfully is a movement and eventually each state will carry on and do the same thing. So, that is something that is to be commended and other states need to take notice as to what Florida is doing and having Lauren Book do this 1,500 mile walk is incredible", says survivor, Tremayne Moore.

Students from FSU, FAMU, and TCC were all in attendance as sexual abuse survivors took back the night. Book says this event is her favorite of the entire journey, because by sharing their stories, survivors are able to heal.

"It's watching survivors take that challenge, use everything that they have inside of them to become thrivers and to believe that they can do it; that they're okay, and that sets them up all along the rest of the path for their life and that's what's so exciting, and so profound", says Book.

Book's journey will finish Tuesday at Governor's Square Mall at 10:45 am, where both her supporters, and state leaders will walk the final mile of the "In My Shoes" journey.

For more information on Book's journey, visit LaurensKids.org.

Updated By: Winnie Wright
April 21, 2014, 6pm

A child sexual abuse survivor is using her experience to educate others and change legislation across the state.

Lauren Book is finishing the final leg of her 1500 mile walk across Florida this week.

She has walked from Key West all the way to Florida's Capitol to raise awareness about sexual abuse and to encourage survivors to speak out.

Tonight, Book will encourage victims to "Take Back the Night" at the Historic Capitol Building.

She will be joined by students from FSU, FAMU, and TCC for a candlelight vigil where survivors will speak out against sexual violence on college campuses.

The Capitol will be lit teal in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness month, and there will be live music as part of the event.

Book's journey will finish tomorrow at Governor's Square Mall at 10:45 am where Book, supporters, and state leaders will walk the final mile of the "In My Shoes" journey.

"Take Back the Night" begins at 7 pm on the steps of the Historic Capitol Building.

Book says everyone is invited to attend the free event to raise awareness and combat sexual assault.

By: Emily Johnson
April 21, 2014

Tallahassee, FL - "From the time that I was 10 years old to the time I was 16 at the hands of female nanny and the abuse went on 365 days a year, 7 days a week," said Lauren Book.

Lauren Book was sexually abused as a child and is now using her story to help others. She's doing so by walking the 1500 mile trek from Key West to Tallahassee accompanied by her support team in their big teal bus.

"Well the walk has been an incredible journey. We've met thousands of survivors from all over the state and really gotten to get in touch with some of those really trying voices," said Book.

Her campaign is all about raising awareness and pushing lawmakers to pass legislation to better prevent abuse and to help survivors heal.

"All four bills that we've been helping to advocate for have passed and been signed by the Governor actually on April 1st the beginning of sexual assault awareness month and so it's been a tremendous year," said Book.

Another part of Lauren's campaign is talking with elementary school students. When we caught up with her she was speaking to a group of 400 grade schoolers.

Book uses her Safe, Smarter Kids curriculum to give kids the tools needed to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse.

"It's important to note that 95% of child sexual abuse is preventable with education and awareness and so we talk to kids about how to use their trusted triangle," said Book.

Book is almost complete with her 1500 mile walk. Tuesday she will finish the stretch by walking the final mile to the Old Capitol.

If you're interested in learning more about Lauren Book and her campaign you can visit www.LaurensKids.org

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