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19 January 2012

Alumna spreads awareness about sexual abuse

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Participants in Lauren Book’s walk gathered at the Rock on Wednesday night. Book hopes her trek will spread awareness about sexual abuse to Florida communities. Adrianne D’Angelo//The Miami Hurricane

Lauren Book, a University of Miami alumna who was sexually abused by her babysitter for six years, led a candlelight vigil and celebration at the Rock on Wednesday, during which she continued to spread her message that “it’s OK to tell.”

After travelling 1,500 miles in 39 days, Book made a stop at UM, her seventh stop on her Walk in My Shoes event, a journey across Florida to raise awareness about sexual abuse.

The trek, which will take Book from Key West’s southernmost point to the historic Capitol in Tallahassee, is one of several events coordinated by Book’s organization Lauren’s Kids.

The walk ends in Tallahassee because of the changes that government legislation has made in regards to sexual abuse, Book said.

Book advocates for tougher state laws that protect children from sexual abuse. She said she hopes a relocation is passed this year, which could help victims relocate from the domicile where the attack occurred.

Book got the idea for the walk from a National Public Radio report about a similar event for obesity. She decided to do the same but with a focus on child abuse.

“I hope that participants feel empowered,” Book said. “I see transformations each year.”

In the process of completing her master’s in community psychology and social change at UM, Book feels that suffering in silence is not the way for children to cope with sexual abuse, hence her motto, “It’s OK to tell.”

Inspired by her own experiences, she started Lauren’s Kids, which helps prevent sexual abuse through education.

“Ninety-five percent of sexual abuse is preventable with education,” Book said.

With education and advocacy as the two themes of her cause, Book also began the Safer, Smarter Kids curriculum that will become part of 11,000 kindergarten classrooms throughout Florida in two weeks. Through fun and not fear, she uses role-play and coloring to teach children about the danger of keeping secrets and to find a “trusted triangle” of safe adults.

For older audiences, Book retells her own story and shares statistics. She says that one in three girls and one in five boys are sexually abused before they are 18 years old.

“Child abuse is a pandemic in our country,” Book said. “It is now much worse with the Internet. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”

The candle light service is only one of many ways that students can aid in her efforts. Others include spreading the word, participating in the walk to Tallahassee or starting a virtual 39-mile walk in one’s own neighborhood. While Book continues on her journey, the on-campus organization No Zebras supports her mission by raising awareness about sexual abuse in the school’s community.

No Zebras President Tiffany Caldas emphasizes that sexual abuse can happen to anyone regardless of gender, ethnicity and age.

“I believe the attention Book is drawing toward child sexual abuse is absolutely vital,” junior Caldas said.

No Zebras Press Secretary Coral Millican feels excited about Book’s arrival on campus and looks forward to gaining widespread support.

“I am really hoping that our campus shows its support in light of the Penn State tragedy,” senior Millican said.

No Zebras organizes a variety of events throughout the year with a focus on student awareness.

Attendees of Wednesday night’s ceremony also had an opportunity to speak to Book and participants of the walk.

As Book continues on to reach her destination by Feb. 21, she does not waver in her school pride and the lessons her alma mater has taught her.

“I am proud to be a product of the U and everything I learned there,” Book said.

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