State Senator Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) has filed legislation for the upcoming session that would remove the statute of limitations for prosecution of rapes involving victims under the age of 18 when the attack occurs.
“Many young sexual battery victims do not come forward when they are first assaulted,” said Senator Stewart. “Sometimes they don’t understand, sometimes they are afraid, and sometimes they are simply ashamed. Each victim processes these horrendous events in their own way and in their own time. Justice for these children should not be tied to a clock.”
Under SB 130, if a victim is younger than 18 years of age at the time the offense was committed, a prosecution may be commenced at any time.
The bill was filed in response to a case involving Donna Hedrick, a constituent in Senator Stewart’s district, who was sexually abused as a 15-year old high school student and buried her secret for more than 40 years. She later learned that five more girls were also abused. The teacher was never prosecuted.
The legislation would have allowed women such as Hedrick, and others, such as the victims of sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, to seek justice as adults for sexual battery crimes committed against them as children.
In the Epstein case, the politically-connected multimillionaire escaped a life sentence after former federal prosecutor and now US Labor Secretary Alex Acosta secretly agreed to a nominal 13-month jail sentence on charges of sexual crimes against underage girls. Epstein had been accused of luring a multitude of under-age girls to his South Florida mansion and other posh locations on the pretext of paying them for massages. Once at these locations, the girls were sexually exploited by Epstein and other unnamed men.
In the Epstein case, Senator Stewart’s legislation would have provided a pathway to pursue criminal charges in state court as additional victims emerged following the controversial federal deal.
Under current state law, 1st degree felonies involving sexual battery must be prosecuted within four years after the offense. Prosecution of any other degree of felony sexual battery must commence within three years of the crime.
Senator Stewart’s bill would take effect on July 1, 2019, if adopted by the legislature and signed by the governor.