Rape victim Danielle Sullivan’s efforts have come to fruition with the passing of Florida’s new “43 Days Initiative Act.” This new bill, signed into law by Governor Scott and in effect as of July 1st, 2015, doubles the statute of limitations allowed for filing charges of sexual battery, commonly known as “rape”.
Sullivan was the victim of rape, but because Florida’s previous law required the victim to report the incident to authorities within four years of the crime, her attacker walked away free from prosecution. That’s because Sullivan was a mere 43 days late in reporting this horrific crime committed against her.
This new law extends the statute of limitations for rape from four to eight years. It also takes away any statute of limitations for victims younger than 16 years old. Prior to this extension, Florida was one of only three other states that had three or four year limitations on reporting rape and other sexual crimes to the property authorities for prosecution.
According to a 2000 National Crime Victimization Survey, youths aged 12-17 are two to three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than adults. In fact, rape, according to the National Victim Center, is “the most underreported violent crime in America.” In a large national survey of American women, only 16% of the rapes (approximately one out of every six) had ever been reported to the police.
Many issues can make it difficult for victims of sexual assault to report these types of crimes, even after many years have passed since the attack. Some of the issues that can effect a victim’s timely reporting include embarrassment, self-blaming and self-shaming, fear of reciprocity from an attacker, or worry that the victim will not be believed. In totality, these effects are called Rape Trauma Syndrome, an established and medically accepted mental health condition.
I’ve personally prosecuted many of these types of crimes in civil court during my career as a personal injury lawyer. Specifically, I have represented victims of sexual battery against a number of powerful and famous men. My experience has taught me that attackers will commonly use their power and influence to scare their victims into silence, especially the younger female victims. Frequently it is only after the victim grows up and realizes how this tragedy has truly scarred her life, that she summons the courage to come forward and seek justice.
By amending this law to extend the criminal statute of limitations, the legislature has provided the flexibility in reporting that victims of sexual battery obviously need to do their part in helping to put sexual predators behind bars, where they belong.
The new law also amends the statute of limitations for a civil lawsuit against a sexual abuser. If the victim is over the age of 18, she has seven years to file a lawsuit. However, if the victim is a dependent of the abuser (an underage daughter, for example), she has an additional four years from the time she severs that dependent relationship, as well as four years from the discovery of injury.
At our law firm, we continue to work on behalf of victims of sexual assault and sexual battery as a legal advocate for their rights in the criminal and civil justice systems. We guide our clients through every step of this difficult, often emotional process. Our goal is to obtain a financial recovery against the Defendant which, hopefully, helps to validate the emotional trauma a victim has endured, as well as pay for future medical and psychological treatment.
If you or someone you know or love has been the victim of sexual assault, contact our office today to find out if we may be able to help you recover. The call is free and confidential.