Nonprofit gets outsized state $$ to fight sex abuse
June 26, 2015
There's a stereotype of pedophiles – creepy strangers lurking at the edge of city parks, cooling their heels in public bathrooms. Lying in wait.
But 90 percent of child sexual abuse comes at the hands of someone whom the child knows, and 95 percent of it is preventable through education, according to Broward County's rape crisis and child advocacy center. That's where the nonprofit organization Lauren's Kids is trying to make a change, by teaching PreK through third graders to recognize signs of danger so they can tell someone.
"The biggest challenge is battling the stigma of child sexual abuse – it's an issue that thrives in darkness, silence and secrecy," said Lauren Book, who founded the Aventura-based charity in 2007. Book, the daughter of prominent lobbyist Ron Book, was sexually abused by a nanny for six years beginning at age 11.
The state this year is giving Lauren's Kids $3.8 million – almost twice as much as any other group in its budget category, which includes organizations such as the YMCA and the Girl Scouts. It is the second year in row it received that much.
Book said Lauren's Kids' $3.8 million is "a direct result of a growing recognition by the Florida Legislature of the pervasive and costly problem that is child sexual abuse and a strengthening commitment to end it in Florida."
Tax records show Book's organization had $438,357 in total revenue in 2010 – that number tripled the next year. By 2013, Lauren's Kids took in $1,810,495, buoyed by $1.5 million in state funds. At the same time, Book's salary as CEO of the organization went from $67,596 to $103,540.
The next year, state funding for the group went up to $3.8 million for the first time. No other organization in that budget category has seen such a meteoric rise.
Local lawmakers who sit on the House and Senate Appropriations committees, which are responsible for setting funding levels, were mystified.
"I've not quite understood why there's been such exponential growth in Lauren's Kids as a budget item," said state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami. "We understand that the organization's doing the work providing counseling and other programs for young adults that have been victimized. But we do need to know where those dollars are being spent. … I've made the inquiry and have not really received an answer that's substantive."
Lauren Book's father, Ron Book, is the president of Lauren's Kids – she is the CEO and she acknowledges her lobbyist dad certainly doesn't hurt her organization's bottom line.
But she maintains state funding couldn't be going to a better purpose.
She points to a 2012 study by the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence that found a pilot program of Lauren's Kids' curriculum resulted in a 77 percent increase of children's knowledge regarding sexual abuse awareness.
Book said her organization had identified an unaddressed problem – preventative education rather than simply going after perpetrators of crimes.
With the Lauren's Kids educational tools expanding to more grades – fourth and fifth grade are in development and should be available for the 2015-2016 school year – Book's next role may be in the very legislature that has bestowed more than $9 million on her organization in the last three years.
Last September, Book opened a political action committee, Leadership for Broward, which is a fundraising first step when running for office. More than $570,000 has been contributed to the PAC since then. The biggest donations include $100,000 from the Miami Dolphins, $25,000 from Vitas Hospice Care, and $25,000 from the GEO Group private prison company – all clients of Ron Book.
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