Yesterday marked the final stretch of Lauren Book’s sixth annual 1,500-mile Walk in My Shoes journey throughout Florida, and I was proud to join Lauren and thousands of supporters for the final two miles from Governor’s Square Mall to the Old State Capitol. The event focuses on raising awareness of child sexual abuse prevention, as well as offering assistance to survivors. Lauren, a sexual abuse survivor and founder of Lauren’s Kids, began her route in Key West on March 14, and rounded out her journey here in Tallahassee on April 22.
Along the way, there were stops in local communities and schools to teach the importance of speaking up on sexual abuse and the different ways children can avoid abuse. While meeting with these children, she shared an important message, “It’s OK to tell.” At the end of yesterday’s walk, she played a voicemail that underscored the value of awareness efforts and, in fact, brought many members of the audience to tears.
The recording was from a child advocate in Florida who wanted to let Lauren know that after one of her visits to a local community center, a young girl shared with her mother that she had been abused. The child said she was compelled to tell her mother because Lauren told the group of children that it is always OK to tell if someone hurts them. Now, this mother is able to help her daughter access services she needs to heal and take steps to prevent it from happening again.
My experience with the Walk in My Shoes campaign has been truly fulfilling. I saw firsthand, in every blue shirt, the dedication and influence the people of our great state can have to create change for the better. This is especially true for those who work in our state’s schools. Under Florida law, everyone who suspects a child may be abused or neglected has a legal responsibility to report it. Because of educators’ proximity to children, they can play a critical role in spotting and reporting abuse.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind all Floridians, especially our state’s educators and school personnel, always to be aware of these common signs that a child is being abused.
- Frequent bruises or broken bones
- Frequent school absences
- Sudden emotional withdrawal
- Sudden aggressive behavior
- Acting out in school
- Displays of irrational fear of certain places, situations or people
- Regression to an earlier stage of development: bed-wetting or thumb-sucking
- Social isolation
- Inadequate personal hygiene
Every year, tens of thousands of children in Florida are subjected to abuse, but we have the power to change that. Remember, school teachers and personnel are specifically mentioned in statute as being required to contact the Florida Department of Children and Families, not just their supervisor, if concerned that a child is being abused, abandoned or neglected. To report, call 1-800-962-2873 or visit https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us/.