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Bill to help child, and teen, sexual abuse victims backed by Lauren Book, law enforcement

Lauren Book understands how hard it is for a teenager to talk about sexual abuse. She was 11 years old when a live-in nanny began physically and mentally abusing her, a horror she lived with for six years.

That’s why Book, founder of the advocacy and educational organization called Lauren’s Kids, is behind a bill (HB 70312) that would allow prosecutors to use out-of-court statements made by young sexual abuse victims up to age 16. As of now, these statements are admissible for a child who is 11 or younger.

“It feels like you’re the one on trial,” said Book, who talked about the difficulty of children and teenagers having to recount lurid details in a courtroom setting, especially when confronting an abuser who may be a loved one. “The process is so scary. I’ve heard kids started crying call when they saw the judge in a big black robe.”

Book, of Plantation, is promoting the bill in advance of her 39-day, 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” journey, which begins Tuesday and will take her from Key West to Tallahassee.

She discussed the bill during a conference call with several supporters, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, chairman of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, which is sponsoring the bill; Bill Eddins, president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and state attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit and Willie Meggs, state attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

An ideal witness will look the jury “in the eye and testify,” but there are cases “where that becomes practically impossible,” Meggs said, noting that using a tape made when circumstances first occurred would help fill in gaps and make it easier for victims having trouble testifying.

The bill would also offer additional tools to get, and keep, sex offenders off the street. The bill has been referred to the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, but it hasn’t yet been put on the calendar.

This is the fourth year that Book has embarked on the walk, which aims to spotlight prevention of child sexual abuse -- 44 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 18, according to the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence. Book has scheduled 50 events, including visits to crisis intervention centers and schools, during the walk.

After starting in Key West, the walk will take her to Homestead and Miami next week.

“My biggest focus is on survivors,” Book said. “I want to bring them hope, healing and recovery.”