For seven years, Lauren Book has traveled the world with a simple message: “It’s OK to tell.”
The four-word slogan, however simple, is a message that could have changed Book’s life. For five years — from age 11 to 16— Book was sexually abused by her female nanny, Waldina Flores, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison on child molestation charges in 2002. In 2004, she received an additional 10-year sentence after a judge learned Flores had written Book a series of love letters from prison — defying the judge’s order prohibiting her from contacting her or her family.
“My abuse went on 365 days a years, seven days a week,” said Book, 27, recounting her story to The Herald in a phone call from South Africa. “There was no break and there was no time off.”
Book will be honored Saturday by the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club, who has named her 2014 Michael Shores Citizen of the Year. Shores was the charter president of the club, which presented its first award in 1985.
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“Kiwanis is an organization that serves the children of the world and advocates for their well-being. So it is fitting that the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club has drawn the public's eye to a truly outstanding advocate for children by honoring Lauren Book,’’ said Will Reich, lieutenant governor of the Florida District Kiwanis Club.
Book wrote a memoir detailing the abuse, It's OK to Tell: A Story of Hope and Recovery. In the book, she reveals an ordeal that began with a kiss and escalated into beatings, rapes and brainwashing. Flores, according to Book, convinced her their relationship was normal and that they would eventually get married and live happily ever after.
Book suffered from anorexia –– her weight fell to 65 pounds — lost her hair and began to cut herself. It was only after her therapist told her father, Ron Book, a prominent Florida lobbyist, that she began to get help.
Book started Lauren’s Kids in 2007, a non-profit that works to prevent sexual abuse through awareness and education. Since then, she has spoken to countless audiences and has helped pass legislation that strengthened Florida’s protections against sexually violent predators.
“Everyone was afraid of [childhood sexual abuse]. No one wanted to be a part of it, and now people are paying attention to this issue,” Book said. “For the first time in my journey as a survivor, I’m feeling seen and heard.’’
David Lawrence Jr., an advocate for early childhood education, has known Book for more than 10 years. His work in the community––as president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, and with the David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Public School near Florida International University’s north campus –– has brought the two closer.
“I’ve always been impressed with her book and her willingness to speak up,” said Lawrence Jr., 72, a former Miami Herald publisher and a former recipient of the Citizen of the Year award. “Sex is a subject many people have trouble talking about.”
“She’s devoted her life to letting people know there us life after something terrible,” he added.
Book is in South Africa speaking to schools around the country. She said the fight that began in Florida has become a global battle.
“It should not hurt to be a child, no matter where you are from,” Book said. “By shining light in the dark places, we’re making it impossible for predators to prey upon our children. They thrive in the darkness.”
If you go
What: 35th Annual Biscayne Bay Gala
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Jungle Island Treetop Ballroom, 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail
Cost: Tickets are $150