Lauren Book finishes 1,500-mile "Walk in My Shoes" across Florida
As about 100 orange and blue butterflies fluttered over the steps of the Old Capitol Wednesday, sexual abuse advocate Lauren Book held a picture overhead of herself as a 5-year-old.
The 27-year-old from Broward County, who overcame six years of childhood physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her nanny, had just finished a 1,500-mile walk across Florida to raise awareness of sexual abuse and encourage victims to get help.
The crowd released butterflies to symbolize the rebirth of life after a survivor tells his or her story.
As Book spoke, her dad and boyfriend choked back tears behind her. She was flanked by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, Attorney General Pam Bondi and about a dozen other friends and lawmakers.
Haridopolos, Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and Bondi (clutching the leash of her St. Bernard Luke), walked alongside Book and about 50 abuse advocates for the trip's last mile.
"Clearly I'm not satisfied with just being a survivor," Book told the crowd, emanating nothing but confidence and excitement. "I consider myself first a thriving survivor, and then I consider myself a warrior."
This is Book's third year walking for sexual abuse victims, but she and her family have also taken a policy-driven approach, working with legislators to pass laws that crack down on abusers and keep them away from where kids congregate.
A crowning achievement for the year, Book said, was creating an education packet to be delivered to kindergarten classes around the state this week. The packet contains DVD lessons, student handouts, a letter to parents, and situation cards letting students know to trust their gut if something feels wrong.
Book's dad, Ron, said he couldn't be prouder than he is when he sees his daughter making such a difference to so many.
"Today, I feel like a winner," he said, tears in his eyes. "I feel like I'm making a difference as a parent."