Cross state awareness walks

Lauren Book’s ‘Walk In My Shoes’ campaign will cover 1,500 miles during National Sexual Assault Prevention Month.

State Senator Lauren Book (wearing hat in center) poses with members of Bikers Against Child Abuse during the 2024 “Walk In My Shoes” cross state campaign on April 15, 2024, in southwest Ocala. [Photo by Andy Fillmore]

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Posted April 16, 2024 | By Andy Fillmore,

Several volunteers, including “Badd Bob” and members of Bikers Against Child Abuse, put boots and wheels on the ground April 15 for the Ocala leg of the 2024 Lauren’s Kids Foundation “Walk In My Shoes” campaign.

The campaign aims to “raise awareness, educate communities and empower survivors,” according to a handout at the event.

State Sen. Lauren Book, Democratic Minority Leader, whose district covers part of Broward County, is spearheading 3-mile-plus walks in 24 cities in a 1,500 mile path from Key West to Panama City during April.

Book’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Lauren’s Kids, works to prevent child abuse and encourage healing. Lauren’s Kids literature states that, nationwide, one in three girls and one in five boys are sexually abused before age 18.

According to handouts at the walk, April is National Sexual Assault Prevention Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“I’m a survivor of sexual abuse from age 10 to 16,” Book said before the walk.

State Senator Lauren Book strikes a fun pose as she leads walkers on the Ocala leg of the 2024 “Walk In My Shoes” cross state campaign on April 15, 2024. To the left of Book are Ben Kampschorer, Gary Lopez and Linda Chuckman, with the Jesse’s Place child advocacy nonprofit in Citrus County. [Photo by Andy Fillmore]

Her book, “It’s OK to Tell,” relates how she was subjected to “daily sexual and physical abuse” from a family nanny for a six-year period, according to cover notes. Book eventually told a therapist about the abuse and the nanny was arrested, the notes state, and she went on to mount “a legislative onslaught against sexual predators” as a lawmaker.

Book said she used the experience to “help turn a negative into a positive” and work to “keep other kids safe.”

The Ocala walk was staged in the Grand Oaks Plaza near Blessed Trinity Catholic High School and headed west on Southwest 42nd Street for 3 miles, with an extension for hardy walkers.

Dawn Westgate, executive director and Kristina Donahue, development director, with the Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection, joined the walk. Kimberly’s Center is a “primary source for healing” for children who have suffered “unimaginable, abuse, and neglect,” according to the agency’s website.

Donahue said the center helps about 1,400 victimized Marion County children annually.

“Child abuse is a crime that happens to far too many children in our community, and it is a crime that thrives in darkness and in secrecy. Events like Lauren’s Walk shine a light in the darkness and helps our children find their voices and their courage to tell,” Donahue wrote in a text.

“Badd Bob,” the sergeant-at-arms for the Paynes Prairie Chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse, an international group that works with state and local child protective agencies, marshaled 10 members to accompany the group on motorcycles and three-wheelers. He said members use only “road names” to help protect identities and that background checks and training are required for BACA vest patch wearing members.

Book spoke to the assembled walkers as they were ready to set out in 86 degree weather and hailed the work by BACA to “protect kids” and be a protective presence, for example, outside a victim’s home or at court.

Dennis Baxley, Florida Senate President Pro Tempore, joined the gathering as the walk prepared to kick off.

“We can never pay too much attention to kids in danger,” Baxley said.

College of Central Florida student Jessi Crall, 24, said a  member of her family was affected by abuse and that the walk was meaningful to her.

CF was also represented by Associate Professor of Social Sciences Julee McCammon and Professor of Teacher Education Renae Robinson.

Ben Kampschorer, a grant manager with Jessie’s Place, a child advocacy nonprofit in Citrus County, traveled to Ocala with board members Gary Lopez and Linda Chuckman to support the campaign .

Cindy Harper, assistant state attorney with the Marion County Office of the Fifth Judicial District, and Fifth Judicial District Victim Services Director Racheal Franklin also attended the walk. Franklin is also involved with the Marion County Sexual Assault Center.

Additional walkers included Alyssa Weber and Joslyn Lopez.

Evelyne Baillergeau and Ron Holden with Lauren’s Kids helped with walk arrangements and the Ocala Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol provided an escort for the group. The walk campaign was last held here about five years ago. There also is a Lauren’s Kids specialty Florida license plate and each sale provides a $25 donation toward “abuse prevention education and survivor support.”

To learn more about Laurens’ Kids, go to For information about the Bikers Against Child Abuse, visit

Numerous participants were on hand for the April 15, 2024, “Walk In My Shoes” event in Ocala. [Photo by Andy Fillmore]

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