This week, state Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, filed a ending the statute of limitations for prosecution of rapes involving underage victims.
Stewart filed the bill on Thursday as she looks ahead to the upcoming legislative session.
“Many young sexual battery victims do not come forward when they are first assaulted,” said 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 the legislation, 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,” Stewart’s office noted. “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.”
Stewart’s office focused on Epstein who has garnered national media attention in recent days.
“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,” Stewart’s office noted. “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.”
If Stewart is able to get her bill across the finish line, it will take effect at the start of July.
Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.