‘Donna’s Law’ could spur prosecutions of sexual crimes against minors

“Donna’s Law” represents "a big step to help send the message that Florida takes childhood sexual abuse seriously.” The Legislature has sent the measure to the governor. Credit: Getty Images

“Donna’s Law,” lifting the statute of limitations on prosecuting sexual abuse of minors, has passed in the Florida Legislature and been sent to the governor to be signed into law.

Named for rape victim Donna Hedrick of Orlando, legislation approved in the Senate and the House removes deadlines that prevented many survivors from bringing charges against an assailant for sexual crimes committed against them as children or teens.

Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat, said Wednesday that victims as young as 5 when they were assaulted were barred from bringing charges years later when they were better able to understand what had happened to them and decided to prosecute.

Hedrick, she said, was 15 when raped by a school teacher. Out of fear and confusion, she did not report it, Stewart said. When she decided years later to file charges against the teacher, she learned it was too late.

Now 62, Hedrick launched an online petition in 2017 to repeal the statute of limitations on prosecuting sexual crimes against minors. It gathered some 30,000 signatures and drew the attention of Stewart and House co-sponsors Scott Plakon, a Seminole County Republican, and Tracie Davis, a Duval County Democrat.

If signed into law, the legislation would take effect in June. It would not apply retroactively, meaning Hedrick still could not prosecute her attacker.

Kim Porteous, president of the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women, helped fight for passage of the legislation. A survivor herself, she thanked victims for speaking up and thanked lawmakers for listening.

“I am thankful that the Florida legislators have taken a big step to help send the message that Florida takes childhood sexual abuse seriously,” Porteous said. “I am grateful for the women who bravely shared their traumatic stories to protect other victims from a lifetime of [having] no way to receive justice.

“When we look at the rates of sexual assault and other acts of violence to women and girls, it is easy to remember that women do not have equality in our country or constitution,” she said, calling for support of the Equal Rights Amendment as a way to address sexual crimes. “We hope the messages of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and the national demand for constitutional equality are being heard by our legislators and they know that we have much more work to do.”

Porteous said the man who attacked her died in 2016 without being prosecuted.