As National Sexual Assault Awareness Month fast approaches, child abuse sex survivor Lauren Book is partnering with Florida lawmakers and state attorneys in advocating for passage of a bill that would expand Florida’s Victimless Prosecution Law. The bill would extend the age for child abuse victims to have an alternative to having to face their abuser in court.
“Often times, it feels to the victim that you’re the one who’s on trial and that’s why I’m really excited about this bill,” said Lauren Book.
Book is a child abuse survivor, who was sexually assaulted by her nanny from the time she was 11-years-old to age 16. She says she knows what it’s like to have to face your abuser in court, and she doesn’t want that for other child abuse victims.
“Imagine having to see the person that you once loved but who also abused you—defecated on you, threw you down the stairs—that’s what happened to me. I was scared and I was betrayed and so I had to face her in open court,” Book added.
That’s why Book is advocating for a bill sponsored by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee that would broaden Florida’s Victimless Prosecution Law and provide an alternative for victims. Its Committee’s Chair is Republican Representative Matt Gaetz.
“The law provides that out-of-court statements made by a child victim up to the age of 11 to be admissible as evidence in a child abuse case and our proposed legislation HB 7031 will extend that option to children up to the age of 16-years-old,” said Gaetz.
And, it’s a proposal backed by the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. Its President Bill Eddins, who’s also the State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit, says this would greatly aid prosecutors in cracking down on sexual predators.
Eddins says for prosecutors, it’s hard at times to rely on a child who has difficulty expressing themselves since they’re scared to share their personal story in court in front of so many people. He says that’s why taped interviews done by a Child Protective Team, or CPT, after the initial reporting of the incident are much more effective.
“And, they do it in a much more relaxed setting. They’re very professional. And, because we have that tape, I’d like to point out that those tapes basically freeze time. They normally occur shortly after disclosure. They show the age of the child, the physical condition, their demeanor, their emotional condition, that is very much more detailed and given under much better circumstances, without being cross examined, and is very helpful to the jury and very helpful to prosecutors,” said Eddins.
And, State Attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit Willie Meggs agrees. He says in his experience, he’s seen that as victims of this type of crime get older, they also don’t want to talk about their abuse in front of other people.
“It’s kind of interesting, and this will almost sound crude, but a very young child will say, ‘well, he touched me on my pee pee.’ Then, well, when they get to be 14-years-old, they don’t say that. They’re embarrassed about it. And, so being able to use that tape to describe it in the detail that we need for a jury trial is a tremendous tool for us,” said Meggs.
The bill also has several other provisions, including if a person has a third conviction of indecently exposing themselves, the penalty would increase from a first degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony.
It has not yet been taken up in any committees yet. Its first committee stop will be the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.
Meanwhile, abuse survivor Lauren Book is expected to advocate for the bill during her fourth annual 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” journey, which starts Tuesday in Key West. Her 36-day walk will run into April, which is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year’s theme focuses on child sexual abuse prevention.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.