TAMPA, Fla. - It’s been more than a year since Florida launched a statewide investigation into child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, and it has since opened the door for victims of past crimes to come forward and share their stories.
The Florida Attorney General’s office is not releasing the number of tips it has received since 2018 when then-state attorney general Pam Bondi launched a statewide investigation into all reports of past abuse in the Catholic Dioceses, including a website where victims can submit tips about abuse - past and present.
While the state investigations move forward, victims are also coming forward to local authorities to report child molestation and rape.
A former nondenominational bishop from Sarasota, Henry Porter was arrested earlier this month for alleged abuse of a child victim. Since then, more victims have come forward, one accusing Porter of abusing him when he was 11 years old.
However, at least one of Porter's alleged crimes happened years ago, outside of Florida's statute of limitations.
An attorney who represents victims of childhood molestation and rape says Florida has taken steps to update its laws, but the state needs to do more.
“In the last 20 years, Florida has changed the law several times to extend the time for reporting,” Attorney Joseph H. Saunders said. “I think the legislature should pass a lookback window like California, like New York, like New Jersey, like Arizona, so that the truth can really come forward about what happened years and years ago.”
Currently, in Florida, there is no limit for reporting abuse when a victim is younger than 16. Otherwise - there’s a statute of limitations that Saunders would like to see lifted.
“I have had one discussion with an attorney general from the attorney general’s office in Jacksonville who called me about a lawsuit that I had filed and, in that case, my client had been abused in 1953,” said Saunders.
But even if there are limitations, Saunders says any victim who comes forward can help with the investigation.
“If they have documentation, even though they've been barred by the statute of limitations, they can follow those perpetrators and they might find a case that's not barred by the statute of limitations,” said Saunders.
While the state’s investigation is focused on reports from Catholic churches, law enforcement wants to hear about any institutional abuse, including youth groups, schools, and other churches.
Victims of ongoing abuse can call the hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (22873).