LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Survivors of child sexual abuse urged better education and stronger laws against predators during the Manatee Glens Sexual Assault Awareness Day at the same time the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee was unanimously recommending Senate Bill 1114, a bill designed to do just that.
That bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. A similar law, House Bill 7031, already passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
Activist survivor Lauren Book walked through Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton on Monday as part of her 1,500-mile journey to the state capitol in Tallahassee to call attention to National Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. The "Walk in My Shoes 2013" campaign is Book's lobbying effort to improve state laws, prevent child sexual abuse and extend prosecution rights to older children in Florida.
The two bills would raise the qualifying age from 11 to 16, strengthen controls on sexual predator registration and update Internet language.
Book spoke on a panel in Lakewood Ranch and at a rally in Bradenton with two survivors: Manatee Coun
ty Detective James Wisher, author of "The Boy Who Never Cried Wolf," and Ken Followell, president of the MaleSurvivor organization.
"From the time that I was 11 years old until I was 16, I was abused by my female nanny," said Book. "She was really sadistic and did some horrible things. My family and I decided it was time to turn a very negative, horrific experience into a very positive one. It is to prevent sexual abuse by awareness."
Book was invited by Manatee Glens President Mary Ruiz, events organizer.
"I like to come where the community is actively involved," Book said. "Last year when we were walking through, we had a woman stop us on the side of the road and she said, 'I have to tell you that a friend of mine really needs some help.'"
The passerby started to cry and tell Book about her friend who had been abused as a youngster, and she urged her to bring the friend to Manatee Glens. About 20 minutes later, the woman brought her friend to join them in getting some help.
Book is also working with the Florida Department of Children and Families on a larger Don't Miss the Signs campaign. Followell, Manatee Glens and others made the television show "Intimate Crimes," featuring survivors from throughout the state. It will air at 1:30 p.m. April 13 and 27 on WWSB, Channel 7.
Between 85 percent and 92 percent of childhood sexual offensives are never reported, often because the abuse comes from family members or people with a close relationship to the victim. Family issues and personal consequences complicate reporting abuse, said Cathy Wilson, Manatee Glens director of Children's Services and Community Programs.
Wisher, for example, suffered for 10 years under an abusive stepfather, but didn't report it until he was an adult police officer in his 40s investigating similar crimes.
"My siblings and I decided it was time and we began the process of prosecuting him. It was liberating. That's when I decided there are thousands and thousands of guys like me who need to have their story told," Wisher said. "We need to teach our boys that it's OK to talk."
A survivor of abuse by males and females, Followell was in his 30s before he found MaleSurvivor online.
"I was able to get the courage to share my story with my wife, who I'd been married to for 20 years at the time," Followell said. "Every day someone types those words for the first time that they're too afraid to say."
When a youngster confides in someone about abuse, they need plenty of encouragement.
"You have to tell somebody who takes care of kids. Tell the kid I'm so proud of you for telling me. Normalize it for the kid. They love and hate the abuser at the same time, and they don't want to be responsible for hurting them," said Followell. "Give them some time to get over it, too,"
Wilson encouraged survivors and family members to contact Manatee Glens for support any time. The phone number for the walk-in center is 941-782-4800.
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.