The Florida child sex abuse prevention model: “Pennsylvania and other states should enact tougher laws”

Earlier this week a Pennsylvania newspaper, The Patriot-News, posted an editorial, “Child abuse victims need reform now” calling for their state legislature to pass more stringent laws to protect children from child abuse and allow more time for victims to report. They pointed out many of the shortcomings in Pennsylvania state law and what needs to be changed. I couldn’t agree more that something needs to be done to better protect children from victimization, and to protect survivors who are trying to heal from abuse.

The article brings to light a scary realization: our nation is not doing enough to protect the most vulnerable and valuable people in our society – our children.  Our states and nation need to raise the standards with which we make our child abuse laws because right now, it’s just not good enough.

The Patriot-News writes that the state’s most recent legislative movement – a bill requiring child abuse training for school personnel is too little, too late.

          “Time and time again it has come to light how insufficient the training has been for mandatory reporters, let alone the public at large,” the editorial stated.

While I believe this is a step in the right direction for Pennsylvania, I agree it is not enough to just educate the narrow list of mandatory reporters, but to expand the title of mandatory reporter to everyone in the state and educate the public – everyone – about reporting. This is why I worked with the Florida legislature this year to craft the “Protection of Vulnerable Persons Act.” The law mandates that everyone in the state is a mandatory reporter, and those who fail to report are faced with a felony. It also includes fines of up to $1 million, per instance, for universities or colleges (public and private) who don’t report known or suspected child abuse. The law is the most comprehensive of its kind, and has created the strictest mandatory reporting law in the country. Everyone, man, woman and child needs to be taught to report and to be held accountable when they don’t.

The editorial board also asks for extended windows of time for victims to come forward to report abuse in civil or criminal courts much like the laws in Delaware, Hawaii and California.

          “What the state should do is offer a one- to two- year window for victims, regardless of age, to bring civil suits,” the editorial stated.

I applaud the Patriot-News for recognizing the need for the extension, but know that ending the statute of limitations is what is really needed. There is no statue of limitations on how long it takes a victim to heal and come forward, so why should there be a limit on reporting that abuse and receiving justice?

In Florida, the Lauren’s Kids Foundation worked with the legislature to completely eliminate the statue of limitations for both civil and criminal prosecutions for sexual assault crimes committed against children under 16. We eliminated the State of Limitations period!

Our state has made it a priority to create laws to protect children and victims of child sex abuse. In addition to the laws discussed above, the foundation has worked to pass multiple laws that I believe makes up some of the most comprehensive overarching set of laws to protect children and help survivors. Some of these laws are:

  • HIV Testing Law/State Law: Assures victims, or in the case of a minor, the victim’s family can get a timely HIV test of the accused (within a 48 hour time period).
  • Lauren Book Protection Act/State Law: Makes it a felony for offenders to contact their victims or the victim’s family after conviction.
  • Sexual Assault Treatment Centers/State Law: Creates a statewide fund for Sexual Assault Treatment Centers, with a funding mechanism and funding grants. This network assures that all Floridians have access to quality sexual assault treatment facilities and qualified sexual assault treatment counselors.
  • Cyber Sex Crimes/State Law: Increases penalties for cyber sex violators including increased penalties for pedophiles.
  • Residency Restrictions/Local ordinances: Sets a 2,500 foot distance from where predators and offenders may live from schools, parks, day care centers, and places where children congregate.
  • Law Enforcement Victim Notification System/State Law: Requires that law enforcement officials must inform victims of sexual assault as to where they can receive treatment and care.
  • Prevent Child Sexual Abuse Voluntary Contribution/State Law: Raises funds to fight childhood sexual abuse through voluntary drivers license and registration renewals by a voluntary donation of $1 or more.
  • Legislation to Create Children’s Safety Zones: Prohibits convicted offenders and predators from loitering within 300 feet (a football field distance) of a school, school bus stop, parks, and similar locations.

Florida’s comprehensive child sex abuse laws set a precedent that other states and the nation needs to follow. I am so proud that Florida is a model for sex abuse laws and I encourage Pennsylvania to follow Florida in enacting tougher laws that show they mean business about protecting their children and preventing child sex abuse.