The person who robbed me of six years of my childhood wasn't a stranger, or even an acquaintance. My abuser was my live-in female nanny, someone who my parents trusted implicitly.
I know what you’re probably thinking: this is unimaginable. This would never happen to my family, or to my child, or in my house. But 90 percent of sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way. When the victim is a child, the abuser is likely someone they – and their parents – not only know, but trust.
The reality is that child sexual abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education. No one would have ever suspected what I was going through. My father, Ron Book, is a well-known lawyer and lobbyist in Florida and I was a blond-haired, green-eyed, straight-A student, doing my best not to give anyone cause to look too close, for fear that they might discover my dark secret.
Eventually, I did find the courage to tell someone about the abuse I had hidden for so long. I learned that I was not alone in my experiences, and sadly one in three girls and one in five boys will be the victim of sexual abuse before age 18.
In South Florida, where I’m from, there were more than 3,000 allegations of sexual abuse originating from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County. This knowledge, combined with the fact that 95 percent of abuse is preventable through awareness and education – drove me to begin Lauren’s Kids, my non-profit foundation that works to prevent abuse and help survivors heal.
Though I now consider myself to be a thriving survivor, not a victim, of sexual abuse, I know that I am still healing. As fellow survivors can attest, healing is a lifelong journey. This is why Lauren’s Kids works to prevent abuse before it begins. Thanks to an appropriation from the Florida Legislature, we’ve developed an abuse prevention curriculum, Safer, Smarter Kids, that has been distributed to every public school kindergarten classroom in the state and has been fully implemented into the Broward and Miami-Dade County school districts. The curriculum has shown to increase knowledge of personal safety information by 77 percent, without containing material that is explicit or scary.
We’re also working with the Florida Department of Children and Families to educate adults in our state about the signs of abuse and their legal obligation to report it under Florida’s sweeping new mandatory abuse reporting law. It is my hope that our new “Don’t Miss the Signs” campaign will help save children from the unnecessary pain and suffering that I, along with 42 million other Americans, have endured.
While Lauren’s Kids has accomplished so much in the fight against abuse, we still have a long way to go. Though it is uncomfortable to address the issue of child sexual abuse, I urge you to join me in the conversation. Your first step? Add your voice to our pledge to end the abuse and exploitation of children here.
Lauren Book is the founder and CEO of Lauren’s Kids, a non-profit that works to prevent abuse and heal survivors. The organization, headquartered in Aventura, offers a 24-hour crisis hotline, elementary school prevention curriculum, an annual awareness walk and speaking engagements. For more information, visit laurenskids.org.