Lauren Book brings Walk in My Shoes journey to St. Lucie County
By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- She's walking to educate, to increase awareness and to be the example.
And she's hoping her steps through St. Lucie County will prompt someone to make first steps of their own.
Lauren Book, the founder of Lauren's Kids, walked through the county on March 28 as one of the many stops as she makes her way from Key West to Tallahassee to raise awareness of the issue of sexual abuse.
This is the third year she is making the 1,500-mile journey, but it isn't one she makes alone.
In St. Lucie County, she stopped at the Port St. Lucie City Hall where she was joined by government officials and volunteers willing to walk with her. She later held an awareness rally and picnic at Sportsman's Park on Prima Vista Blvd.
Ms. Book endured sexual abuse for six years by her nanny.
"Through counseling, I realized I needed to turn this negative experience into a positive one," she said.
Now, she is a nationally recognized advocate and works to change Florida laws to better prevent abuse.
One of the changes that would make an out-of-court statement from older child victims of sexual abuse, sometimes called "victimless" prosecution, a stronger tool in trials.
She is also looking to expand the state's existing kindergarten prevention curriculum to include students in grades one through five, and to have the curriculum include the topics of bullying and Internet safety.
"Having my voice heard catapulted me into advocacy," Ms Book said.
Her walk will end on April 23, when she reaches Tallahassee and holds a rally at the state capitol.
But hopefully, by then, a sexual abuse victim's first steps have already been taken.
According to statistics, there were more than 6,000 rapes reported in Florida in 2007, and more than 11,000 sexual offenses that included fondling and other forced sex offenses.
The county is prepared for those victims to step forward. April is sexual assault awareness month, and in Fort Pierce, there is a program available on 411 South Second St.
The local group reached a milestone last year when the workers and volunteers recognized 30 years of helping victims in the area. It works as a certified crisis rape center for the 19th Circuit Court.
The programs services include a 24-hour hotline, information and referral, crisis intervention, advocacy, support groups, prevention education and training, medical referrals, victim follow-up and emergency financial assistance.
The program is free and is also offered in Spanish. It covers St. Lucie, Okeechobee, Indian River and Martin County.
For more information, call (772) 462-1306. A hotline has been set up, and can be reached by calling (866) 828-7273.