Florida Weighs Lifting Statute of Limitations for Child Sex Offenses

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Photo by Paul Sableman via Flickr

Florida lawmakers are considering legislation that would remove the statute of limitations of reporting on any sexual battery case if the victim is under the age of 18, reports WUFT/PBS.

The bills,  HB 199 and SB 170, are named “Donna’s Law” to honor Donna Hedrick, who was assaulted as a child by her chorus teacher but kept her story buried for years .

Speaking to legislators on the bill Tuesday in Tallahassee, the state capitol, she described  her feelings of terror and powerlessness.

As tears welled in her eyes, Hedrick, now 63, said she later learned that the same teacher  abused other children.

It took her decades to process what happened and report it to law enforcement, only to find out she reported it too late.

“I was told to put on a happy face,” she said.

Hedrick is one of a handful of sexual assault survivors writing, researching and lobbying for legislation to reform and protect other survivors’ rights and change the statute of limitations for victims who are minors.

The Florida House Criminal Justice Subcommittee unanimously passed HB 199 the first week of the 2020 legislative session. It again moved quickly and unanimously through the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday.

Another survivor, Katrina Duesterhaus, told state representatives about being sexually assaulted at a high school party. Duesterhaus said it plays over and over in her  memory like clips in a movie.

Years later when Duesterhaus finally told law enforcement, police dismissed the story and questioned its legitimacy.

“Worst of all, I was told it was too late for an investigation,” Duesterhaus said.

One of the bill’s House sponsors, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said that although the bill wouldn’t apply retroactively, he hopes it’ll give victims more time and better opportunity to pursue one’s attacker.

“It would put more tools in a prosecutors toolbox,” he said.

Kim Porteous, the president of Florida NOW, National Organization for Women, argued the  doesn’t go far enough — it needs to expand beyond minors.

As a survivor who was assaulted after the age of 18, she stressed college-aged women, young adults and males also face abuse.

“If we don’t address this, then what are we really doing here,” Porteous said.

The story was originally reported by Fresh Take Florida.  a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

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