Suncoast groups unite to raise awareness of sexual assault

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SARASOTA, Fla. - In observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the non-profit ‘Lauren's Kids’ is walking across the state of Florida, from Key West to Tallahassee. Tuesday, the organization, along with Suncoast supporters, walked through Sarasota and Manatee County, ending at a rally held by a local family crisis center.

The Suncoast community came together, all dressed in teal, to represent Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Abuse survivor Lauren Book, the founder of Lauren's Kids, walked through Sarasota Tuesday morning, but left on a flight to Tallahassee soon after to meet with Governor Scott as he signed several bills related to sexual assault.

But you could not miss the large teal and pink bus as they continued into Manatee County, walking up U.S. 41 and raising their signs declaring "end sexual assault."

The rally afterwards took place outside Manatee Glens, where multiple tents were set up with local organizations who support sexual abuse awareness. And art created by sex abuse victims was on display.

Manatee Glens says it is a therapeutic way for victims to describe how they feel and move forward. Those in attendance listened to survivors tell their inspirational stories.

“This is really a community effort; that there are so many other organizations. We all come together to help these victims and really it's about their healing and their recovery," said Sondra Guffey of Manatee Glens.

"We need to bring awareness, advocacy, and hope and healing to our community,” said abuse survivor Jen Bicha.

Lauren's Kids will continue to walk across the state, ending in Tallahassee on April 22nd. They say this "walk in my shoes" program is all part of an effort to make the community aware and show state government that laws need to be changed to enforce stricter penalties on those who abuse.

There are many local organizations across the Suncoast that need volunteers for their crisis centers. Manatee Glens also suggests calling their hotline if you know of anyone who may be a victim, or the Lauren’s Kids hotline.