Statute of limitations on rape could be a thing of the past in Florida

Gina Burns has been taking calls in the Tampa Bay Crisis Center for years.  As the director of sexual assault services, she knows all too well why victims don't speak up initially.

"It's often the same thing they're saying, which is, 'I thought I would get over this, but I didn't,'" Burns said.

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

"We're talking about people who were abused 20, 30, 40 years ago. So it's this lifelong trauma that could stem from this childhood abuse," Burns explained.

Under current law, victims of sexual battery who are over 16 years old, but under 18, must report the crime to law enforcement within 72 hours to avoid a statute of limitations. After that, they have about eight years to prosecute the cases.

Florida lawmakers have proposed a pair of bills to change that.

The Senate bill would remove the statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions if the victim was under 18 at the time of the crime. The House bill removes the statute of limitations, entirely, for any civil case brought by victims of rape and other crimes.

Tuesday afternoon, a Senate criminal justice panel made a change to the Senate bill, and then unanimously approved the new rules would apply to crimes committed on or after July 1, 2020.

State Rep. Mike Gottlieb (D-Plantation) is sponsoring the House bill.

"There needs to be an opportunity where there hasn't been a criminal case, or even if there has been a criminal case, to address in the court system the wrong that has been committed against these people," he said.

Both Burns and Gottlieb credit the Me Too movement for the renewed effort on the issue.

"We live in a day and age where we're recognizing survivors of these actions are coming forward. Sometimes 25, 35, 45 years later," Gottlieb said. "And they deserve the opportunity to have their voices heard."

Both sets of bills would take effect in July 2020, if passed.