Bill Inspired by Priest Abuse Would End Limit on Prosecuting Rape

By Brendan Farrington
Herald-Tribune [Sarasota Fl]
March 27, 2003

A bill inspired by reports of priests abusing children would eliminate a four-year time limit in prosecuting rapes.

The bill (HB 747) approved Thursday by the House Public Safety & Crime Prevention Committee would allow prosecution of rapists even if their victims wait decades to report the crime. In most current cases, rapes cannot be prosecuted if victims wait more than four years to come forward.

"There's been a lot of stuff in the news over the summer and last spring regarding Catholic priests and this is pretty much to address that," said Rep. Jim Kallinger. He said many victims have "been initimidated" from reporting "what had happened many years ago."

Under state law, there is no time limit on prosecuting sex crimes against victims under 12. Prosecutors can prosecute crimes against children older than 12 and younger than 18 until the victim's 22 birthday. They cannot prosecute sex crimes against adults four years after the assault.

"A lot of perpetrators have been using the statute of limitations to their advantage knowing that 'Heck, if I commit this crime, and they don't report by the time they're 22, I'm off the hook' and the chance of them reporting it by the age of 22 were slim to none," said Kallinger, R-Winter Park.

He said the Florida Catholic Conference supports the bill, even knowing that it could mean criminal charges against priests.

Mike McCarron, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, said the dioceses were "very comfortable with the legislation and have no concerns with it."

The committee voted 14-2 to support the bill after a long debate about whether it would allow people to file false crime reports.

Rep. John Seiler, who voted against the bill, said the purpose of the statute "is a weighing of the risks of unfair prosecution in an untimely manner against the rights of victims and the protection of society - we're trying to balance this. In here we are putting the system out of balance." He was joined in opposition by Rep. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

Seiler, D-Pompano Beach, wanted to add a provision removing the time limits to prosecute, but only if there was evidence to corroborate the victim's claim.

"We're opening the door too far and I think you're going to allow a lot of false accusations to surface," he said.

Committee members rejected the amendment, saying that many times there are no witnesses to sex crimes and evidence such as DNA may not be available years later.

"These people are shellshocked. These people do not many times want to prosecute because they feel a sense of shame, they feel a sense that they have been violated and the one thing they want to do is crawl into a little hole and die," said Rep. Juan-Carlos Planas, R-Miami, a former prosecutor.

While Kallinger's bill focuses on criminal prosecution, at least 12 states have responded to the crisis of sexual abuse by priests by drafting legislation that would extend the statute of limitation on civil lawsuits in such cases.

Randy Means, director of investigations and administration for the Orlando state attorney's office, said the proposal would also help in cases where family members and youth activity leaders such as Boy Scout leaders "slowly coerce the victim into having sex."

Terri Poore, a lobbyist with the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, said her organization often receives calls from people who want to report a rape years after the fact, many of whom come forward after receiving therapy.

"We frequently have phone calls where we tell people that we believe they should be able to take it forward but the statute has run and they're simply not going to be able to do that," Poore said. "For many victims that's really hard news to take."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.