Reporting Florida Sexual Abuse and Assault
Sexual abuse is a crime that victims may keep a secret for many years. Recent, well-publicized allegations of sexual abuse within organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church have resulted in the waiver of the statute of limitations in many states, allowing victims to bring cases for abuse that occurred many years ago, and people and organizations responsible for sexually abusing children or covering up allegations of abuse are being held responsible. If you have been the victim of sexual abuse, an attorney with experience in this type of case can help you understand your legal options.
What Is Sexual Abuse?
A 71-year-old man was arrested recently and charged with sexually assaulting a child 44 years ago. According to the Sheriff’s Office, the man was called to the Crimes Against Children office to discuss the allegations, where he confessed. He lived in the home with the elementary school-aged victim in 1975 and said he went into the child’s bedroom “about every other night” for six months. He admitted to investigators that he knew at the time that what he was doing was wrong. The man, who had no previous criminal record, was arrested and jailed. The victim in this case kept the abuse a secret for decades before revealing the information to a relative, who urged the victim to come forward.
That’s a good example of what many victims of sex abuse are dealing with.
The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as unwanted sexual activity, during which the perpetrator uses force, makes threats, or takes advantage of a victim who cannot consent due to age, intoxication, or other factors. More often than not, the perpetrator is someone who already knows the victim. Many victims state that they felt shock, fear, or disbelief when the abuse happened. Long-term effects of sexual abuse include anxiety, fear, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sexual Abuse Statistics
Consider the following statistics about sexual abuse in the U.S.:
- On average, one in 10 children will be sexually abused before his or her 17th birthday, including one in seven girls and one in 25 boys.
- 60 percent of child sexual abuse victims never tell anyone.
- Nearly 70 percent of all reported sexual assaults involve victims who are 17 years old or younger. The rate of sexual assault victimization is 2.3 times higher for children between the ages of 12 and 17 than it is for adults.
- 20 percent of children who are sexually abused are under the age of eight when the abuse occurs.
- About 90 percent of child sexual assault victims know their abusers, and a family member is the perpetrator in about 30 percent of all child sexual abuse cases.
- 40 percent of child sexual abuse victims are abused by older, more powerful children. Early adolescents, between the ages of 12 and 14, are the most likely of adolescent sex offenders to abuse younger children.
- The majority of adolescent sex offenders do not go on to become adult sex offenders. Adolescents are more responsive to treatment than adult offenders, and adolescents generally do not re-offend if they are provided with proper treatment.
- 70 percent of adult sex offenders have between one and nine victims, while 20 percent have between 10 and 40 victims.
- 81 percent of child sex abuse incidences occur when a child is alone with his or her perpetrator.
- Child sexual abuse most commonly occurs in the home of the child or the home of the perpetrator. The abuse most often happens in the late evening hours.
The majority of sexual abuse cases are not disclosed, and of the cases where the victim does disclose the information, many are never reported to the authorities. Of those that are reported, only about 55 percent are actually investigated. The rest are screened out due to insufficient information and other reasons. Of the reports that are investigated, only some meet the criteria to qualify as substantiated.
State Mandated Reporting Laws
Many states have mandated reporting laws regarding child abuse. Florida’s, for example, states that anyone who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is being abused by a parent, legal guardian, caregiver, or another person must report that information.
In addition, the state requires certain professionals to report child sexual abuse that they know of or suspect, including:
- Physicians and other healthcare workers engaged in the admission, examination, treatment, or care of the child
- Mental health professionals
- Spiritual healers
- School teachers or other school personnel
- Social workers, daycare workers, foster care providers, and residential or institutional workers
- Law enforcement officers
- Judges and mediators
Any person who knows that a child is being sexually abused and fails to report that abuse faces conviction of a third-degree felony. Likewise, if any Florida school or college system receives information about sexual abuse that is taking place or has taken place on the property of that school or college and fails to report that abuse to the proper authorities, or knowingly prevents someone else from doing so, may face a fine of up to $1 million.
Reporting Current Sexual Abuse
If you are in a situation where you are being sexually abused, or you know of someone else who is, you can report that abuse in several different ways. If the abuse is current, you can make a report by calling the police. You also can report child sexual abuse to the Florida Abuse Hotline at 800-962-2873, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some of the information you will be asked to provide when you call includes:
- Name, date of birth or approximate age of the child, and the race and gender of all adults and children involved
- The address of the individual making the report, including current location
- Relationship of the alleged perpetrator with the child
- Other information, including directions to the child and any particular risks to the investigator of which the reporter is aware
- Specific details of the allegation, including descriptions of the event and the circumstances contributing to the risk of harm, injuries that have been sustained, and any other information that is pertinent to the investigation
Reports of sexual abuse can also be made by facsimile, with the information sent to 800-914-0004. Faxed reports should include the Department of Children and Families’ PDF form, which ensures that reporters provide complete information. Ensure that all information listed on the form is written legibly. Copies of medical records and arrest records should not be included in reports sent over facsimile. While this is an acceptable way to report abuse, emergent situations should always be handled through the hotline phone number or by calling the police.
Reporting Abuse Years Later
In 2020, Florida legislators passed a bill to lift the statute of limitations on prosecuting the sexual abuse of minors. At the time of this reporting, the law was pending the governor’s signature and was set to go into effect in June 2020. The law is intended to change the reporting requirements in Florida that lifted the statute of limitations on filing a civil action regarding sexual abuse of minors, which is currently seven years after the victim reaches the age of majority, which is 18 years. The new law was named for victim Donna Hedrick, of Orlando, who was raped by a school teacher at the age of 15. Hedrick, who was scared and confused after the assault, waited several years to report the abuse, only to be told at that time that the statute of limitations had run out in her case.
In 2017, Hedrick, now in her 60s, launched an online petition, garnering around 30,000 signatures in favor of lifting the statute of limitations for child sexual assault victims. The petition caught the attention of three Florida lawmakers, who decided to put forth a bill to do just that. The legislation gained the support of the state’s chapter of the National Organization of Women, with a representative of that organization calling the bill a demand for Constitutional equality for women. The bill was not written to apply retroactively, meaning that Hedrick cannot personally seek justice in her case.
Extending Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Statute of Limitations
At the same time that Florida lawmakers have sought to extend their state’s statute of limitations, many other states are doing the same thing, and some are going even further. In a single year, 29 states have taken action to reform their sexual abuse statutes of limitations, including:
- 15 states have bills that would extend their criminal statutes of limitations, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
- 14 states have bills that would eliminate their criminal statutes of limitations, including Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
- 8 states have bills that would extend the civil statutes of limitations, such as Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
- 15 states have bills that would eliminate their civil statutes of limitations, such as Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
- 16 states have bills to open their revival windows, including Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Revival window laws, also known as “look-back” laws, refer to a temporary window in which the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases is lifted to allow adult survivors of sexual abuse to file a claim and seek compensation for their injuries. In 2019, 23 states modified their sexual abuse statutes of limitations, many through the revival window concept.
In New York, for example, legislators enacted a revival window in sexual abuse cases in 2019 that lifted the statute of limitations for one year, beginning in August. However, in 2020, lawmakers and the governor have sought to extend that period, as the COVID-19 outbreak has prevented new claims under the Child Victims Act from being filed. Survivors and support organizations have noted that there have been additional problems with the law, including a lack of lawyers to assist survivors when making their claims, and survivors who are seeking compensation from family abusers who are more or less judgment proof. That said, the majority of New York’s revival window claims have reportedly been made against large organizations, including the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America.
The median victim age for reporting child sexual abuse is 48. The average age is 52. If you were the victim of sexual assault, the National Sexual Assault hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673). Survivors can obtain free services from the hotline, including:
- Confidential support from a trained staff member who will provide a caring, listening ear as you tell your story
- Support finding resources in your state, including a health facility trained to care for survivors, long-term support, or a sexual assault forensic team
- Basic information about medical concerns
- Information about the laws in your area
You can also find support and information online.
Pursuing Compensation in Sexual Abuse Cases
Florida survivors of sexual abuse can seek compensation for damages that they incur because of the abuse by filing a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator or against an organization that sought to cover up the abuse. Some of the damages that victims may recover through this process include:
- Expenses for past and ongoing mental health therapy
- Emotional and physical pain and suffering
- Damage to family relationships
- Punitive damages in cases where the defendant’s behavior was particularly egregious, such as targeting very young victims or a large number of victims
Let a Sexual Abuse Lawyer Help
Recovering from sexual abuse is a process that often takes a long time. It may even take a lifetime. Let an experienced sex abuse attorney help you determine if seeking compensation through civil action is right for you. To schedule a free consultation with Dolman Law Group either call our Clearwater office at (727) 451-6900 or fill out a contact form online.