Bills could change statute of limitations on rape in Florida

State lawmakers want to give survivors of sexual assault more time to come forward and seek justice. 

Experts know people don't always report it right away after being raped or sexually assaulted.

"We'll have survivors that will call us and say, 'You know what, I was raped two months ago. I was raped two years ago. I was raped 20-years-ago,'" said Clara Reynolds, president and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

She says sexual battery crimes should not be silenced by an expiration date.

"This is a crime that doesn't go away after the physical scars heal,” Reynolds said. “This is something that will stick with an individual, man or woman, throughout their entire lives."        

In 2015, state lawmakers doubled the amount of time sexual assault victims have to come forward and seek justice, allowing rapists to be prosecuted within eight years of committing the crime.           

Senate Bill 130 would remove that deadline for any victim who was under the age of 18 when attacked. 

The Orlando Senator sponsoring the measure says she wants to remove barriers to justice.

"By the time they reach adult age, it takes them that long to really consider what had happened to them and have the courage to come forward and tell people what had happened to them,” said State Senator Linda Stewart. “I don't think that there should be a time clock."                      

Young sexual battery victims don't always report rapes when they happen - out of embarrassment, feeling ashamed, or they're scared.           

"Often times this perpetrator is someone that they know, often times a family member, a close friend, and they may not feel comfortable coming forward because it might damage a relationship within their family,” Reynolds said. “They also may not even realize that this was an inappropriate relationship until they're much older."

She says this bill could empower more survivors to report their abuse, and the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay supports the legislation.

"We think it's great legislation, we think it's going to be a very powerful tool to assist victims of sexual assault move past what has happened to them, so they truly can find a place of help, hope, and healing," said Reynolds.

A second bill filed in the House would extend the statute of limitations even more. HB 83 would give prosecutors 15-years to file charges against rapists in certain cases.

There is currently no statute of limitations for victims under the age of 16.           

Both proposed laws will be considered during the 2019 legislative session that starts in March.