Just after noon on Monday, Lauren Book is scheduled to talk to a group of Manatee County residents about how she survived six years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse from her former nanny.
She will talk about her childhood nightmare again later that day when she appears at Manatee Glens as part of the hospital’s annual sexual awareness day. In fact, Book has spent every spring over the last four years speaking several times a day, across the state, about what she suffered.
And when she is not participating in her annual 1500-mile “Walk In My Shoes” rally across Florida, Book is fighting the sexual abuse of children in scores of other ways. She writes blogs, has published a book, founded a nonprofit group, appears on television, visits schools and child advocacy centers, lobbies politicians, and even has visited a homeless camp filled with sex offenders.
“It’s never easy. Being a survivor and sharing my experiences isn’t easy,” Book said. “I am constantly putting myself out there in a very vulnerable way. But it’s important. And whenever I have a hard time, I remind myself why I am doing this.”
Book’s mission, ever since she revealed her nanny’s abuse to her parents 11 years ago, is to empower other sexual abuse victims to speak out. Every year since 2009, she has undertaken “Walk In My Shoes” to stand up for causes she says will help abused children understand that “they’re not alone.”
This year, her cause is to convince the Florida Legislature to pass into law a bill that would allow the out-of-court statements of child sexual abuse victims to be admitted as evidence in court.
The law would protect child sexual abuse victims from being “retraumatized” by having to repeat their accusations over and over, and in front of their abusers. It would ensure more child molesters are brought to justice, Book says, because many times victims lose their will to testify during the 18 months to two years that it sometimes takes to bring their cases to trial.
“There are many cases where we have evidence but we may lose the victim because they no longer want to be part of it,” says Cathy Wilson, director of children’s services and community programs at Manatee Glens. “They may have started over.”
Book and her father Ron, a well-known political lobbyist, have already been instrumental in passing many other laws strengthening protection of child sexual abuse victims.
Last year, they helped pass a law requiring mandatory reporting of known or suspected child sexual abuse. The year before, the Books were instrumental in eliminating the civil and criminal statute of limitations on sexual abuse crimes.
Book’s story is especially valuable, says one Manatee County activist, because it breaks down “stereotypes” about child sexual abuse.
“So often, people think the perpetrator is a male stranger, and the victim is a female child,” said Ken Followell, president of MaleSurvivor, a nationwide organization devoted to helping male survivors of sexual abuse recover. “People tend not to worry about people they know and trust. But the truth is, 90 percent of the time, the molester is someone close to us.”
Book’s molester was the woman, hired by her parents, who cared for her and her two siblings for six years. Waldina Flores was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2002 after confessing to molesting Book from age 11 to 17. The molestation included not only sexual violation, but beatings, threats, defecation and urination, Book says.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are: facing your abuser in court is scary,” said Book, who testified in depositions against Flores when she was 17. “Having a defense attorney grill you, having to expose deep, dark secrets that you are ashamed and embarrassed of, is extremely difficult and very painful.”
Book’s struggle to cope with what happened to her led to periods of anorexia and self-mutilation. She says counseling is the only thing that enabled her to thrive in spite of her experience, and recommends it for every sexual abuse victim.
“I want people to know that abuse happens everywhere,” she says. “It happened to a blond-headed, green-eyed girl who came from a gated community. We all have a false sense of security; it’s really important that we all be aware of what’s out there.”