Florida State Senator Lauren Book was sexually abused by her nanny for six years as a child — a subject she has spoken about often, while channelling the pain into a lifetime of helping other abuse survivors.
After years of healing and building a life, including running a non-profit to help abuse victims, getting married, having children and winning her Senate seat — Ms Book has been victimised again, this time by someone trying to extort her by threatening to reveal nude photos that were stolen from her.
To make matters worse, an investigation revealed that the images had been bought and traded online since 2000.
“I hate that this happened to me,” Ms Book told The Associated Press in an interview. “I hate it, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. But I’ll take it, because I know that I can do something about it.”
Ms Book is taking action as only a legislator can. While the pain came rushing back, so did her spirit to fight, and she’s seeking a new law to try to prevent others from being victimised in this way by strengthening Florida’s revenge porn laws.
A bill sponsored by the Democrat state senator, would make it a felony to steal sexually explicit images from someone’s phone or other digital device.
The spread of sexually explicit deep fakes — altered or created images — would also become a felony.
Ms Book says that the international trade and sale of such images is a sick, perverted subculture that pays more for images of celebrities or elected officials, but also victimises women who are not well known.
“Truth be told, if it weren’t for my children, I would have ended my life,” she said. “It brought up all of the stuff. All of it that you think that you’ve gotten under your belt, that you’ve fixed it and you’ve changed it and then all of a sudden here it is in front of your face.”
Worse still were the conversations online about the prospect of more images when those trading them found out who she was.
“They were reading about who I was and talking about how I’m a survivor of rape, so let’s try to get some rape videos. Can we get some of her getting raped, killed, tortured? Can we make some of that? Can we find it? How can we get it?” Ms Book said.
While she does not know how the images were stolen, investigators told her that the pictures the teenage hacker used to try and extort her were sent from virtual private networks in Sweden and Russia.
While her abuse as a child had a beginning and an end when her abuser was prosecuted and jailed, Ms Book knows that this case will go on for over.
‘There are still things up there. Still. They’ll never be gone. People were buying it, people were trading it, and this is not unique. This is happening every single day, to women predominantly,” she said.
Ms Book began her campaigning aged 17 when, as the daughter of an influential lobbyist, she travelled to the state capital in Tallahassee to convince lawmakers and then-Governor Jeb Bush to pass a law requiring HIV tests for rape suspects.
Twenty years later she continues to fight back and use her position as a lawmaker to help others do the same.
With reporting by The Associated Press