CORNWALL, Ontario - This year’s guest speaker at the Children’s Treatment Centre’s biggest fundraiser of the year not only talks the talk, she walks the walk. Every year, Lauren Book treks 2,400 kilometers across Florida to raise awareness about childhood sexual abuse.
Born and raised in south Florida, Lauren was abused as a child by her live-in female nanny. She’ll be the guest speaker at the Celebrity Walk Kick-Off Breakfast on Wednesday, September 18th. She and her father, Ron, will share their moving story of horror, hope and healing with about 600 people at the charity event. The two will also join forces for separate presentations to teachers and principals, and to parents and caregivers of young children.
A shy girl desperately seeking approval, Lauren was 11 years old and the daughter of a wealthy Tallahassee lobbyist when her family hired Waldina Flores to look after her and a younger brother and sister. Lauren already felt isolated by her mother’s severe mental illness and her father’s busy work schedule, so she was easy prey for the nanny’s unrelenting physical and sexual abuse.
After six years of beatings, rape and degradation, Lauren finally disclosed the truth when Flores threatened to kill a boy she was dating. The nanny fled to Oklahoma where she was found coaching a female soccer team. In 2002, she was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Emotionally conflicted and ridiculed by classmates, Lauren began to do drugs while cutting, burning and starving herself. It was a fierce struggle but she eventually regained control of her life, graduated from university and teamed up with her father to establish Lauren’s Kids, a group dedicated to helping other victims.
Thanks to their tireless advocacy, Florida law now insists victims get the results of an abuser’s HIV/AIDS test; it’s a felony for convicted offenders to contact victims or their families, as Flores did after conviction; the state’s abuse reporting rules are among the toughest in the nation; and there is no longer a statute of limitations on sexual crimes against children.
Florida also has a compulsory abuse-prevention curriculum for elementary schools and Lauren designed the kindergarten component. She has a Bachelors degree in Elementary Education and Creative Writing; and a Masters in Community Psychology and Social Change.
In 2011, Lauren wrote It’s Okay to Tell, a book about the extreme abuse she suffered and the healing journey she underwent to become a survivor. As part of her continuing work, Lauren does her annual 39-day walk across Florida, visiting treatment and prevention centres and listening to the stories of people she encounters along the way.
She’ll bring that same energy and empathy to Cornwall when she and her father speak at the Celebrity Walk Kick-Off Breakfast at the Cornwall Civic Complex. Breakfast will be from 6-7 a.m. followed by their presentation.
In the afternoon, the Books will address principals and teachers of children between pre-kindergarten and grade four, teaching them to use a school curriculum that empowers children to protect themselves against abuse. This curriculum teaches children to tell a trusted adult about any situation which makes them feel unsafe, uncomfortable or confused.
On Thursday, September 19, the duo will speak to parents and caregivers of children aged four to eight about how to speak to their kids about abuse prevention. Ms. Book believes that children are the first line of defense against abuse, and if they are taught what to do, 90% percent of those who otherwise would be abused could protect themselves. The presentation will be at 7 p.m. at the Best Western Plus Parkway Inn & Conference Centre in Cornwall and it is open free of charge to all parents and caregivers.
For more information on these events, contact the Children’s Treatment Centre at 613-933-4400.