"When I learned that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys would become a victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, I knew I needed to do something to make it different."
Lauren Book (M.S. Ed) is an internationally respected and renowned child advocate, former classroom teacher, best-selling author, and Florida State Senator. She is also one of 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse living in the U.S. today. Armed with the knowledge that 95% of sexual abuse is preventable through education and awareness, Lauren founded Lauren’s Kids in 2007 as a vehicle to prevent childhood sexual abuse and help other survivors heal. They have also developed and implemented the first Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 abuse prevention and personal safety curriculum program that takes place in over 65,000 classrooms – arming 2 million children with safety education each year. If you would like to learn more about the resources that Lauren's Kids provide, check out their website https://laurenskids.org/.
SWY: If you don’t mind sharing - What is your story with childhood/youth abuse and trauma?
LB: I was a victim of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse from age 11 to 16 at the hands of my live-in female nanny. She was someone who gained my trust and the trust of my parents and siblings; she became a part of our family. Then, she violated my boundaries. It started when she took the gum out of my mouth with her tongue. I froze - and was scared and confused, so I did not tell anyone. When she realized I did not tell, she continued to violate boundaries until I was subject to daily abuse. After six years, I found my voice. I told and was believed, but even so, healing was a very difficult journey - often one step forward and two steps back. With the help of trauma therapists and the support of family and friends, I am now a thriving survivor and an advocate for change.
SWY: In 2007, you founded Lauren’s Kids. Can you tell us more about your organization and what inspired you to start it?
LB: Lauren’s Kids exists to prevent child sexual abuse through education and awareness, and to help survivors heal with guidance and support. When I learned that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys would become a victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, I knew I needed to do something to make it different. Over the last decade, we have created the country’s first Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 abuse prevention and personal safety curriculum, rooted in helping children distinguish safe vs. unsafe situations and secrets and how to identify 3 or more trusted adults to whom they can tell anything. We’ve launched EMMY Award-winning public awareness programming, walked 1,500 miles across the state of Florida eight times, and launched two best-selling books, my memoir, It’s OK to Tell, and children’s book, Lauren’s Kingdom. We’ve also changed more than two dozen state and federal laws to help protect children and help survivors heal. And, we’ve created a “Guide to Hope & Healing” to help families navigate the time following a child’s disclosure of abuse.
SWY: What are some of the resources that Lauren’s Kids offers, and how can others get involved in the foundation?
LB: Lauren’s Kids offers many resources for different audiences, including:
Our Safer, Smarter Schools programming includes Pre-K through Grade 12 curriculum, professional development for educators, and resources for guidance professionals.
Safer, Smarter Families resources include both printed and online lessons, activities, and videos to help create a culture of safety at home.
Safer, Smarter Communities resources include guides for youth-serving organizations, trauma-informed care training for foster families, public awareness resources, and more.
Finally, our resources for survivors include our Guide to Hope & Healing – designed to help families and survivors in the time following a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse – as well as our Survivor Stories portal and books to help support survivors in their healing journey.
SWY: Can you tell us more about the foundation's Safer, Smarter Schools K-12 curriculum? What is the importance of teaching children about their personal safety?
LB: The Lauren’s Kids Safer, Smarter Schools curriculum is a Pre-Kindergarten through 12th Grade personal safety and abuse prevention program developed by Lauren’s Kids, lifelong educators, sexual violence prevention experts, and developmental psychologists, with support and oversight from the Florida Department of Education and the University of Florida. Engaging videos and in-class activities enable all children to effectively learn critical safety strategies, no matter their learning style. A step-by-step facilitator’s guide, in-person and online trainings, and parent letters are also components of this program.
Safer, Smarter Kids is our elementary school curriculum, with grade-level specific lessons for students in Kindergarten through Grade 5 covering topics including:
Respecting yourself and others
Assessing safe vs. unsafe situations
Understanding rules and responsibilities
Identifying and protecting body boundaries
Listening to a guiding voice
Accessing help and identifying trusted adults
Determining safe vs. unsafe touches
Safe vs. unsafe secrets
Staying safe online and on digital devices
Establishing personal power and influence
The program also contains adaptions for students with special needs.
Safer, Smarter Teens is designed to be taught in middle and high school classrooms and covers topics including:
Personal power and the balance of power in relationships
Physical and emotional boundaries
Fitting in, peer pressure
Grooming and secrets
Technology safety, cyberbullying
Healthy vs. unhealthy relationships
The issue of sexual abuse
Dating violence and harassment
Advocacy for yourself and others
Mental health awareness and assistance
Healthy coping skills and substance abuse prevention
Accessing help and identifying trusted adults
Human trafficking prevention
When it comes to teaching children about personal safety, it is important to recognize that 95% of child sexual abuse IS preventable through education and awareness. While we may not be able to prevent every instance or the first instance, we can absolutely arm children with protective principles to ensure they tell a trusted adult and get help if they are ever made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
SWY: What is one piece of advice you would give to a child or youth who is suffering from abuse and trauma?
LB: The most important message to a child suffering abuse and trauma is that “It’s OK to tell!” Your abuser may use threats of harm, or that no one will believe you – you may feel guilty or ashamed – but this situation is not your fault, safe adults will believe you, and help you to become safe. Gather your courage and tell, and keep telling until you get both heard and helped.
"The most important message to a child suffering abuse and trauma is that “It’s OK to tell!”"
SWY: On that same note, what is one piece of advice you would give to a child or youth who wants to heal but doesn’t know how?
LB: I would tell a child who is suffering and wants to heal to ask their school counselor for help reaching out to their local children’s advocacy center or sexual assault treatment center. In Florida, these centers provide trauma-informed therapy to survivors regardless of their ability to pay. All therapy is wonderful, but it is important to find someone specialized in trauma-informed care and sexual assault counseling as they are specially trained to help you process and heal from the trauma of abuse.
SWY: What is one important thing you want others to understand about being a childhood abuse survivor?
LB: Being a survivor of child sexual abuse is something that absolutely colors your world – but you get to choose the color. My world has changed because of the abuse I have suffered, but I chose to work hard at healing, to then help others find hope and healing, and to protect children in ways I was unable to be kept safe. The trauma survivors have suffered is very real, but we can rise from those ashes to heal and thrive - not just survive.
"The trauma survivors have suffered is very real, but we can rise from those ashes to heal and thrive - not just survive."
SWY: What are some ways that others can advocate for childhood sexual abuse in their community?
LB: I believe prevention is the most important thing we can work toward in the fight to end child sexual abuse. Reach out to your local school district and urge them to implement Safer, Smarter Schools, encourage your local library or community center to honor April as Child Abuse Prevention Month with awareness and education materials, work with your local children’s advocacy center to support awareness events in your community. Remember, 95% of child sexual abuse IS preventable through education and awareness. Knowledge is power, and together, we CAN keep kids safe!