Walking the Walk

Lauren Book, B.S.Ed. ’08, M.S.Ed. ’12, earned her master’s degree in May.

Lauren Book, B.S.Ed. ’08, M.S.Ed. ’12, a Community and Social Change master’s degree graduate, laces up her sneakers, stretches her muscles, and begins the walk of 1,500 miles.

From the Keys to Florida’s capitol, Book and supporters of her cause, trailed by the well-appointed RV she calls home during her agency’s month-long Walk in My Shoes trek, spread awareness and promote legislation to protect children from sexual assault.

On the back of Book’s purple Nikes, customized for the occasion, bold letters stitched in hot pink read, “HEALIN JRNY.”

But the 3 million steps she’s taking to call attention to the needs of this country’s 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse are like a walk around the block compared with how far she’s come already.

Born in an upper-middle-class family and raised in a well-heeled South Florida suburb, Book suffered years of abuse, including threats, rape, and beatings, from the family’s female nanny.

“It’s pretty naïve of me to think all this bad stuff will just go away,” she writes in her 2011 memoir, It’s OK to Tell: A Story of Hope and Recovery. “But that’s still the brainwashed girl I am at 16, after nearly four years of abuse.”

The assaults ended when Book was 17, but the trauma remained, followed by anorexia, self-mutilation, and hospitalization. At one point she dropped to 70 pounds.

“The worst horror and the thing that causes the longest-lasting trauma for child victims,” adds Book, whose nanny received a 25-year sentence, “is the violation of trust by a parent or caretaker.”

But with help from the Broward County Sexual Assault Treatment Center, Book began her journey out of shame and silence. She and her father, a prominent political lobbyist, testified and pushed for new laws on behalf of survivors. By the time Book earned her undergraduate degree cum laude from the University of Miami—a double major in elementary education and creative writing—she’d launched the nonprofit advocacy group Lauren’s Kids.

Book continues telling her own painful story in the national media to stress the importance of prevention through education.

“People are afraid of the topic of sexual abuse, and predators thrive in darkness and silence,” she explains. “We are shining light into dark places.”

This year Florida public schools adopted her sex abuse prevention curriculum for kindergartners, Safer, Smarter Kids, which emphasizes “fun, not fear,” she notes.

“Lauren has taken something most people would consider a horrible tragedy and empowered herself and others,” says associate professor Laura Kohn-Wood, director of the program from which Book graduated on May 10. “She is working so hard to create a different kind of world—to change the context, not just the child.”

With an estimated one in three girls and one in six boys sexually abused before age 18, that mission is far from over. “We have to be the voice for those who don’t have voices,” says Book, a recent Miami Coalition of Christians and Jews Excellence in Community Leadership honoree. “It’s our job. It’s my job.” 

To hear Lauren Book's NPR interview, please click here.

To read Book’s USA Today op-ed in response to the Penn State and Syracuse University sex abuse scandals, please click here.