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Sexual Abuse Survivor Walks Across Florida to Rally for New Law

For six years, the family nanny sexually abused Lauren Book. 

As a survivor, she has made it her mission to prevent other children from being abused. She's walking across the state for the fourth "Walk in My Shoes" campaign. It's a 1,500-mile journey that will end in Tallahassee, where she will press for a new law to help children who have been abused.

Book shares her story because she believes education is the key to prevention. She says the problem is widespread, and children are most likely be abused by someone they know.

 "In my case, it was a female nanny. A lot of times people have in their mind a preconceived notion as to what a pedophile or a perpetrator is," Book said. "In reality, they're not some weird guy hiding in the bushes or behind a dumpster." 

The Florida Department of Children and Families received 16,505 reports of sexual abuse last year. Of those reports, they verified 2,496 of them.

According to Nicole Stookey, Northwest Region Communications Director for DCF, just because a report can't be verified does not necessarily mean the abuse didn't happen. 

"We're only as good as the information we get," Stookey said. 

Stookey explained that sometimes investigators don't find enough evidence to verify a report. 

Florida passed a mandatory reporting law last year, which requires all individuals to report known or suspected abuse to the state hotline. Book advocated for that legislation last year. 

When this year's walk ends in Tallahassee, she will rally for lawmakers to pass a bill that will make the judicial process for sexual abuse victims easier. 

"It's a really scary thing," Book said. "You're asking children to sit across from the people who have hurt and harmed them more than anyone in their lives."

A bill that's headed to the House floor will, as Book explained, "freeze time" by allowing video from an initial interview after an assault to be used as evidence in court. If the video can be used in court, in most cases it will prevent children 16 and under from having to face the person they're accusing in court.    Currently, it's up to a judge to decide if those interviews are admissible in court. 

Book visits schools throughout the year and provides educational resources on her website. 

Book believes it's never too young for parents to start talking to their children about how to identify things that make them feel unsafe. 

"Children in their own way try and tell parents that something's not right," Book said. "Ask why. Have that open and honest communication.  Talk to your children. "

Lottie Watts covers health and health policy for Health News Florida, now a part of WUSF Public Media. She also produces Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.