Lauren Book is the 30-year-old daughter of a prominent Florida lobbyist. During her teens, she suffered terrible sexual abuse at the hands of her nanny while her father was away at the state Capitol.
She turned those traumatic events into a thriving nonprofit called Lauren’s Kids, which educates the public on sexual abuse prevention through in-school curricula and awareness-raising campaigns.
But Lauren’s Kids has another face too—it’s been instrumental in passing legislation that has made Florida one of the harshest states in the nation for those on the state’s sex offender registry and their families.
Lauren’s Kids has proposed a state law banning registrants from living within 2500 feet of places like parks, daycares, and schools. Many Florida towns and counties have already done just that, passing ordinances that make upwards of 90 percent of homes and apartments off limits to registrants and their families. Rates of homelessness among registrants have soared, making it harder for probation and parole officers to maintain contact with them.
Coalitions against sexual assault in many other states, such as Kansas and California, have gone on record opposing such residency restrictions because they destabilize the lives of offenders, which actually may increase the risk of reoffense.
On April 22, Book will cross the finish line of her organization’s 1500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” charity event in Tallahassee. Awaiting her will be many supporters, but this time also some who question her advocacy of laws that advocates say have created hardship for many other families.
Vicky Henry is the head of Women Against the Registry (WAR), which educates the public about the impacts of sex offender registries on the family members of registrants. She’s helping organize the “Rally in Tally” to bring attention to the other side of Lauren’s Kids work and to call for sweeping changes in sex offender laws. I asked Henry to talk a bit more about why she’s helping to organize the rally.
Where do you think you have common ground with Lauren’s Kids and Lauren Book regarding what needs to be done to prevent child sexual abuse?
Those of us in the anti-registry movement wholeheartedly support legitimate initiatives to proactively protecting children against sexual abuse and other kinds of abuse. The difference between Lauren’s Kids and our advocacy is the difference between using a Band-Aid and going to full-scale triage. We’ve continually advocated for child sexual abuse training programs and have a proactive agenda that begins with advocating for state legislation that would provide funds for education on sexual abuse in the venue where the studies show it most often occurs–the family. Lauren Book’s own story is a perfect example of that.
Ninety-five percent of sexual abuse is committed by family members and other acquaintances, and about the same percentage is committed by first-time offenders. That means that most who commit abuse aren’t on state registries.
Abuse is rampant in schools and other organizations. The Associated Press had its reporters seek disciplinary records for 2001 to 2005 from schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Their 7-month investigation found 2570 cases in which educators had their teaching credentials revoked, denied, or surrendered, or in which teachers were sanctioned. And a review by America’s Catholic bishops found that about 4400 of 110,000 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 through 2002. No one–not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments–has yet found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms. But one thing is sure—education and training efforts are the only approaches that have been shown to work. [A 2007 report from the Kansas Sex Offender Policy Board, for example, noted that “The most effective alternative (to residency restrictions) for protecting children is a comprehensive education program.”]
Where do you disagree with what Ms. Book and her foundation have done?
We advocate that registrants who have been adjudicated, paid their debt to society, and lived a law-abiding life to be allowed to live in peace with their families, free of further punitive punishments. The registry has become impossibly broad and now includes juveniles whose re-offense risk is low, adults whose crimes are decades old, and those who are now adult who were convicted as teenagers for having younger girlfriends. State government should focus its resources on those offenders who are truly dangerous. The Book Foundation and the Walk in my Shoes platform are pushing the Florida legislature toward ever-more-punitive legislation that doesn’t protect children.
Book told the Miami New Times that she wishes critics “would speak directly to me so I can show them the amazing work we are doing on behalf of children.” You took her up on that invitation and tried to reach her organization’s executive director. What happened?
We reached out to Lauren and her executive director, Ms. Van Susteren, on the day they began their walk by contacting their headquarters. We were advised that best way to reach them at that point was by email. We sent an email and several days later called the executive director on her cell phone. She indicated they were just ending their walk for the day and that they were getting ready to begin a book reading. After that, she said she would discuss our request to meet prior to the end of the walk on April 22nd and get back with me. We are still waiting by the phone and computer.
What do you hope comes out of the Rally in Tally?
The first thing that needs to come out of the rally is the realization that in our movement, we need to take more than one approach to change. We need to both work with legislators and to challenge legislators and the media, while educating the general public on the facts. And second, a peaceful protest will serve to deliver a message that we, as a collaborative group of citizens, are going to fight to take our lives back at a time when reason has been thrown to the wind.
How can people get involved?
People can help in a number of ways. They can join us in person and carry a sign. They can offer donations to the folks who are able and willing to go. They can pray for peace and understanding and promote the rally from coast to coast. You never know where we will show up next. But be certain that we will be at any event where there are people or media members who are proposing more punitive laws.
[More information on the rally is here: https://www.womenagainstregistry.org/page-1730788/3279464.]