Senator Lauren Book Visits Gainesville in Her Walk Across Florida For Child Advocacy

Senator Lauren Book Visits Gainesville in Her Walk Across Florida For Child Advocacy
Photo cred. David Barfield at

Florida Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book walked six miles across Gainesville today, being joined by Gainesville residents, employees at the Gainesville Child Advocacy Center, members of Bikers Against Child Abuse, and people from in and out of Alachua County. 

Annually since 2010, Senator Book has walked across Florida from the home where she was sexually abused as a child to the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee to advocate for legislative and societal change on verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuses committed against children.

Book’s Walk in My Shoes demonstration seeks to empower her fellow survivors of childhood sexual abuse by saying, “It’s okay to tell, and it's okay to heal.” 

Book disclosed the crimes committed against her in her memoir and in an interview with NPR 12 years ago, telling how a nanny moved into her home and sexually abused her for six years. 

Book’s presence comes at a time in Gainesville when numerous cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) are being perpetuated and/or covered up by those in an authoritative position over their victims. 

In one instance at a Gainesville school, St. Patrick Interparish Catholic school physical education teacher Christopher Chell and assistant principal Ryan Clemens were arrested for committing CSA and covering up reports of CSA, respectively.

In another case, Gainesville church Ignite Life Center (ILC) has also been in trouble with the law for the commitment and concealment of CSA, as they are facing three civil suits for their disregard of sexual abuses committed by Gabriel Hemenez during a summer internship program at ILC, in addition to a Gainesville Police Department (GPD) supplemental report showing Head Pastor Mark Vega and Associate Pastor Jose Cruz wanted to handle the matter internally after they were told their sons had been repeatedly engaging in statutory rape on church grounds. 

In her previous interview, Book spoke about how her abuser was a trusted member of the community she was in, making it more difficult to speak out, telling her host Michel Martin, “The grooming process is one in which a predator works to build trust, not just with the child that they're about to abuse, but for the family.”

Her words reflect the previously mentioned supplemental report and civil suits against ILC, with one of the suits alleging Vega used his authoritative position at former Yankees Pitcher & World Series Champion Mariano Rivera's church as a means to convince a parent to pay to send their child from Rivera’s church in White Plains, NY, to ILC for their summer internship program where Hemenez committed the sexual abuses against the plaintiff.

Book’s condemnation of CSA in her interview over a decade ago remains prevalent today, with her comments speaking to cases of sexual abuse in religious and educational institutions that are pervasive across Gainesville. 

“Sexual abuse happens across all cultural, socioeconomic backgrounds, religion; it matters not. It happens in your church. It happens in your temple. It happens in your mosque. It happens at the school that your kids go to; and in your neighborhoods, in your gated communities. Wherever your children are, they are at risk. And that's why it's important to learn all you can about tricks predators set; who your children are around; and having that open and honest communication with your children.”  

Before embarking on her six mile trek across Gainesville with her supporters, Book told attendees why she walks, thinking back to a previous Walk in My Shoes event.

“I think about how hot that day was, how terrible I felt, and how much I didn’t want to keep walking. I remember how I didn’t want to do a reading of [my book] Lauren’s Kingdom. But we got there, we did the reading, and several days later we got a very special phone call from [Gainesville Child Advocacy Center President] Sherry [Kitchens] about a little child who disclosed the abuse she was suffering.... That's what we do. We keep on walking…We’re going to protect kids at all costs and do everything that we can in our power to make sure children are kept safe."


Book talking to attendees about why she walks and the plans for the walk.

This is one of numerous events taking place in Gainesville during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Tomorrow, the Children’s Trust of Alachua County will hold an event from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm at Westside Park to promote child advocacy. 

Jack Walden

Jack Walden

Jack Walden is the creator of Gnvinfo and a 2nd year journalism major at Santa Fe College. From general information, to exposing falsehoods and corruption, Jack seeks to deliver the truth.
Gainesville, FL