By Lane Wright
As if walking 500 miles across the state of Florida wasn't enough, one sexual abuse survivor is doubling down for victims of sexual abuse.
Lauren Book, daughter of high-powered lobbyist Ron Book, is aiming to lengthen her stride and broaden the reach of her message, by walking 1,000 miles from Key West to Tallahassee. She and her friends will be making stops in the Tampa area and farther west in the Panhandle.
Book is the founder and executive director of Lauren's Kids. She was a victim of sexual abuse for six years, from age 11 to 16, by her nanny.
"We doubled the miles, because, you know we needed people to pay attention!" she said with a smile. "And we really wanted to do the entire state. The Panhandle is a place that does not get the services a lot of the time that they need, so we wanted to get some attention brought to those places," said Book.
But the walk isn't just about awareness. Book is hoping to pass tougher laws against sex offenders.
- Of course he is. At one time, over 100 sex offenders lived under the Julia Tuttle Bridge, due to laws he lobbied for. Then, he had it shut down, and used tax payer money to get them hotel rooms for awhile, while the fire burned out. Now they are homeless again, living in the DOC parking lot and elsewhere.
Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Heathrow and Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, are sponsoring the Walk in Their Shoes Act, HB 251 & SB 488, which would give additional support and protection for victims of sexual assault. The bill includes provisions to:
- Enhance the Rape Crisis Program Trust Fund
- Admit evidence of prior sexual crimes
- Provide relocation assistance for victims of sexual crimes
- Limit a defendant's access to child pornography evidence and ensure it is securely held
- Include internet safety in comprehensive health education
- Quickly test offenders for HIV.
For the most part, the legislation wouldn't put a strain on an already-tight state budget, but it might create more demand on a limited pot of money designated to assist a wider range of victims in other ways.
The extra money to enhance the Rape Crisis Program Trust Fund would come from expanding the list of offenses that charge a fine for that fund. But the money for relocation assistance would come from the Victim's Compensation Trust Fund. Currently, that fund does not allocate money for relocation assistance.
"All we hear about these days are 'job, jobs, jobs.' Sometimes it's easy to forget there are other issues like protecting the weakest among us, children and victims of sexual violence," said Dorworth.
Book plans to begin her walk March 19th in Key West and end it 39 days (and who knows how many pairs of shoes) later in Tallahassee.