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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida sexual abuse victim in D.C. to call attention to problem, urge action

12

December

ronlauren.jpgLauren Book, pictured here with her father, Florida lobbyist Ron Book, will testify before a U.S. Senate committee tomorrow about her experience as a victim of sexual abuse and call for new protections.

One recommendation is eliminating the statute of limitations for victims to bring a civil lawsuit, if the victim is under age 16 when the abuse is committed.

"I think the recent Penn State, Syracuse and Citadel cases underscore what I have known for some time – that our society has a very high tolerance for childhood sexual abuse," Book will tell the Health Subcommittee on Children and Families. "In each of these cases, preserving the reputation of the institution was placed above protecting the interests of the children -- children who were subject to unspeakable abuse and manipulation by people the institution placed in positions of trust and power. Unfortunately, this is a situation that has become all too familiar in our society -- a problem that cries out for your attention and action."

Book was abused by her family's live-in nanny from age 11 to 17. She has become an advocate for abuse victims and started a foundation, Lauren's Kids. Read more about her story and her recommendations below:

Statement of Lauren Book

 Before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Subcommittee on Children and Families

 December 13, 2011

Madame Chair, Ranking Member Burr and members of the Committee, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to tell you my story and share the perspective I have gained as a victim of childhood sexual abuse for five years.  I am proud to say that I have grown beyond being just a victim to being an advocate and an educator, because I believe those are the two main ways we will end the epidemic that is childhood sexual abuse.

I was sexually, physically and emotionally abused daily at the hands of our family’s live-in nanny from age 11 to age 17.  I was groomed and manipulated by a predator who took advantage of the fact that my mother struggled with mental illness and was largely emotionally absent, my father worked and traveled a lot and was largely physically absent, and I was an obedient child who wanted to please adults and ultimately protect my younger siblings.  My story illustrates that sexual abuse knows no bounds.  It happens to children of privilege and poverty.  It happens in every religion, ethnic group and income level.  It is epidemic.  And I am committed to changing that.

My advocacy in Florida has been instrumental in changing many laws to better protect children and victims of sexual abuse.  I would value the chance to influence federal law as well because the mission of the Lauren’s Kids Foundation that I founded is to create a world where sexual abuse and exploitation of children is not tolerated and where children know it’s always ok to tell.

The Penn State and Syracuse tragedies are either a national wake up call and teaching moment or a lost opportunity.  How we respond as a society, as a government and as individuals will demonstrate whether we truly value children or are willing to let them continue to be a commodity to be exploited.  The work this committee is doing is a great start.

I think the recent Penn State, Syracuse and Citadel cases underscore what I have known for some time – that our society has a very high tolerance for childhood sexual abuse.  In each of these cases, preserving the reputation of the institution was placed above protecting the interests of the children -- children who were subject to unspeakable abuse and manipulation by people the institution placed in positions of trust and power. Unfortunately, this is a situation that has become all too familiar in our society -- a problem that cries out for your attention and action. 

Our recommendations relate to four main areas that I will outline briefly:

First, extending the statute of limitations to bring a civil lawsuit if the victim is under age 16 when the abuse is committed.  Our preference would be to eliminate the statute of limitation entirely, since, I can tell you there is no statute of limitations on how long it takes a victim to heal.  It’s a lifelong process.

Alternatively, at a minimum, we would like to see Congress increase the statute of limitations to six years after a victim reaches the age of majority or six years after a victim remembers repressed memories of abuse.  This “delayed discovery” doctrine is recognized by courts in many jurisdictions and should be codified in the statute to ensure it is applied uniformly to all cases of child sexual abuse.

Clearly, the current six-year statute of limitations is inadequate because a child may not even have reached adulthood by the time it tolls.  Since 85-90% of childhood sexual abuse goes unreported entirely or for many years, the current law is highly inadequate.

Second, we’d like to see Congress use the leverage of federal funding to impose a reporting obligation on those universities that accept federal funds.  This obligation would relate to childhood sexual abuse that occurs on campus or at university-sanctioned off-campus events.  It also ensures the possibility of public scrutiny of these reports by making clear that these reports cannot be shielded under a state public records exemption.  And we recommend imposing administrative, civil and criminal penalties, on both individual institutional personnel and institutions that fail to report child abuse.  Penalties should include fines and up to two years imprisonment for individuals who willfully fail to report or who prevent someone else from reporting, or who conspire to violate this reporting requirement,

Even more important, penalties should include the threat of termination of all federal funding for a university that fails to report.  We believe this institutional sanction is an important hammer that will counter the tendency to put protection of a university’s reputation over the interests of children.  As the Penn State case demonstrated, unless the penalties for failing to report exceed the pressure to protect the institution, children will be left at risk.

Third, we would like to see Congress expand federal criminal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes that occur on university campuses or at university sponsored or sanctioned events.  I think it’s clear that campus sexual assaults in general often don’t get properly prosecuted because of overly cozy relationships between universities and campus police departments or even local law enforcement agencies in a college town.

We recommend allowing for federal prosecution of sexual crimes committed on university grounds or at university-sanctioned events, again using the leverage of federal funding.  This provides another route to justice, if campus or local law enforcement authorities fail to act.

Finally, we’d like to see childhood sexual abuse added to the list of crimes that must be reported in the crime statistics collected under the Clery Act.  While the Clery Act is less impactful than the other changes we’ve recommended, we do think this is a loophole that should be closed.  And, again, it must be made clear that universities cannot hide behind state public records exemptions to shield this information, as the Penn State officials were able to do.  The Clery Act’s disclosure requirements should preempt any contrary State public records exemption.  Only the identifying information about victims of sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, stalking, and child abuse should be shielded from public disclosure under Clery.

Perhaps most important, Congress should make it a national imperative to educate children about how to avoid the traps predators set for them.  In Florida, beginning in January, every kindergarten class in the state will receive a new abuse prevention curriculum developed by my foundation, Lauren’s Kids.  We hope this will give every kindergarten student in our state the radar to recognize unsafe situations, and a language and tactics to deal with them.  The curriculum manages to empower children without scaring them and to thwart sexual predators without dealing with the topic overtly or explicitly.

If Congress is serious about ending the scourge that is childhood sexual abuse and exploitation, arming children with knowledge is the key to protection.

I deeply appreciate the speed, commitment and seriousness with which this Committee and its members have shown in addressing the issue of protecting our children from sexual abuse by those who would abuse their positions of trust within institutions of higher learning to prey on young children.  I look forward to working with you and your colleagues on these and other reforms that will help to end sexual abuse and exploitation.  Thank you again for extending me the opportunity to share my views.

[Last modified: Monday, December 12, 2011 6:26pm]

    

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