By Lauren Book, M.S. Ed, Founder/CEO – When I was little, I wanted to be a “weather girl” (meteorologist). I thought that would be the best job ever and I would be the best at it. I grew up in South Florida, my dad made a good living, and someone outside looking in may have thought we had everything we could’ve ever wanted. But our gated neighborhood couldn’t keep out the monster living in my own home. 

When I was little, my mom decided to open a chocolate shop. Around Christmas my family was all hands on deck working in the shop; even our new nanny Waldy, who had been around a few months. Though I hated her at first, she eventually became like family – calming things down in our hectic household. 

One night, Waldy noticed me smacking on a piece gum and told me to stop. I responded – hands on my hips, like the sassy 11-year-old I was – “What are you going to do about it?” She came over, put her tongue in my mouth, removed the gum and spit it out in the trash. I felt the air go slack. Shocked, I said nothing, did nothing and wondered what had happened. That was the first of many boundary violations that put me on a trajectory of abuse that nearly ended my life, then fueled a fire for healing and my life’s work of advocacy.

The physical and sexual abuse happened every day, in my house, the car, after school, on vacation, in the dressing rooms at the mall and even in the very next room when my parents were home. Like most victims, I trusted Waldy explicitly before that first violation, and the abuse confused everything I knew to be true about love, family and security. It wasn’t until I was 16 and my boyfriend threatened to tell my dad (Waldy threatened to kill him), that I knew I had to speak up. I found the courage to tell and Waldy went to prison. 

Like most victims, I trusted Waldy explicitly before that first violation, and the abuse confused everything I knew to be true about love, family and security.

That was 2005. Rewiring the lies in my head involved therapy, love, learning, determination and a never-ending drive to become the woman I wanted to be. Survivor, not victim. Then, thriver, and warrior for change. I chronicled my experience in It’s OK to Tell: A Story of Hope and Recovery to show others it is always OK to tell – and OK to heal. Being vulnerable and sharing my experience was both incredibly difficult and cathartic, and I’ve met so many men, women, and children who have said “Me Too,” long before the hashtag.  

In 2007, I started my nonprofit, Lauren’s Kids. Our mission is “to prevent sexual abuse through education and awareness, and to help survivors heal with guidance and support.” I determined that the best way to help others was to take my mission on the road to educate communities and empower survivors, so I decided to walk 500 miles across Florida to bring awareness to the issue and help others impacted by abuse.

I walked the state and met all types of people impacted by abuse. I encountered people from every corner of the state, in every kind of community. Abuse knows no boundaries. It happens in every zip code—in schools, churches, synagogues, in sports, after school clubs—everywhere. 

After that first year, I expanded my walk to 1,500 miles annually and have now traversed the state eight times. I lobbied Florida lawmakers to pass tougher laws against predators. I gathered experts to create the nation’s first-ever Pre-K through Grade 12 personal safety curriculum called Safer, Smarter Schools. Available to Florida schools at no cost, it is now also taught in 36 states and four countries. We’re teaching kids between the ages of 4 and 18 how to stay safe. My 11-year-old self didn’t have that, but today’s kids do.

Since I began my own healing journey, I’ve seized every opportunity to push back the darkness cast by abuse. Today, I serve as a Florida State Senator representing one of the largest districts in our state. My first legislative session began a few weeks after giving birth to twins. Proudly, both my daughter and son were there to share in the moment. Representing citizens and starting a family has renewed my vigor to bring hope and healing for a better world.

My message to you is: trauma and tough times may color your life, but you get to choose the color. I know what it means to not want to get out of bed in the morning, but if you keep pushing forward, I promise it does get better – and when it does, your scars will only make you tougher. You’re not done yet, and neither am I.

About The Author

Lauren BookLauren Book, M.S. Ed, is an author, educator and internationally respected and renowned child advocate. As founder and CEO of Lauren’s Kids, Lauren seeks to create a world where the exploitation of children is not tolerated. The organization has helped advocate for the passage of nearly two dozen laws to support survivors and protect children from predators. Lauren has been named a PEOPLE All-Star Among Us, L’Oreal Woman of Worth and is the recipient of a Congressional Medal of Merit for her tireless work to protect childhood as well as a member of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet.

Learn more about Lauren’s work and advocacy in child sex abuse prevention and education at Lauren’s Kids and on Facebook and Twitter.