At least one lawmaker has followed through on an abuse survivor’s vow to make sure legislation was filed to allow young victims to use private recordings in sex abuse cases. It follows a recent Florida Supreme Court ruling that will now allow a man convicted of abusing his stepdaughter to get a new trial, after she taped an incriminating conversation without his consent.
The case revolves around a girl, who at 16, privately recorded a conversation between herself and her stepfather Richard McDade.
According to the court documents—while he didn’t use sexually explicit language, he “appeared to be asking her to have sex with him.” And, if she didn’t, he’d be “physically sick.” He also indicated that he was doing her a favor by not telling her mother, otherwise the victim would be taken back to Mexico.
And, reading from the brief, sex abuse survivor Lauren Book says there are so many other things wrong with this case, including the fact that McDade was an ice cream truck driver who had ready access to kids.
“Even so, in the beginning, when you start reading, red flags all over the place. Never had sex or intercourse with his wife….the wife admittedly did not believe her daughter, brought her to a doctor. The doctor did not report the suspected abuse. Two members of the clergy from her church did not report the abuse. How many times was this young girl going to be denied justice,” asked Lauren Book.
For six years until she was 16-years-old, Book survived the abuse of her nanny. Since then, she’s been a victim’s advocate, holding events and working with lawmakers to help abuse victims. And, the 2015 legislative session will be no different, especially she says after the Supreme Court decision.
In it, the justices agreed they couldn’t allow the girl’s evidence against her stepfather because it would create an exception to Florida’s two-party consent rule, and they said that’s ”a matter for the Legislature.”
And, with no DNA or physical evidence to support the victim’s claims, the case hinged on the recorded conversation.
“You know, it’s a truly horrific decision,” said Book. “While I can understand, I’m just so disappointed in the ruling. We should all be disappointed in that ruling, but we’ll work very, very hard with our Legislature to create the change so that this young girl and others can find justice.”
Among those lawmakers Book is working with is Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Coral Springs). He recently filed the House bill creating an exemption that allows victims age 16 or younger to use secret recordings as evidence in court.
“Technology has changed,” said Moskowitz. “The reason we’re having this conversation is the statute was written in a time when people didn’t have a tiny recording device in their pocket. And, now that children—some as young as the age of nine and 10 you see with cell phones—why don’t we use these devices to help protect them that could put their offender away? A lot of times these things become ‘he said, she said,’ and no one believes the kid. An adult comes in and says it’s not true. Nobody believes the child, and this will be incontrovertible evidence that a jury will be able to weigh.”
While he hasn’t yet encountered any opponents to the bill, Moskowitz says he may anticipate some resistance—though the bill is bipartisan in nature.
“I wanted to pull a bill forward that addressed this particular instance so that you could minimize potential First Amendment argument that opponents of a bill like this would make: that we’re infringing on their First Amendment. Well, my attitude is all of the rights that you’re granted have a limitation, and if you’re going to abuse a child, you lose your First Amendment right,” he added.
And, he adds while the bill for now centers around a certain age group, he sees it as sort of a pilot.
“A lot of times it’s easier to get something on the books and then test it, and then expand the scope of it going further,” stated Moskowitz. “So, if the Legislature wants to expand it to all sexual abuse victims no matter the age, they can do that.”
Meanwhile, Book indicated that in addition to Moskowitz, she’s also working with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) and former Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers) on this bill.
And, Book says she would love to reach out to the girl involved in this case.
“We want also respect her privacy, but as we prepare for the walk, this is a young girl who we, of course, want to empower to have her voice heard and to feel that there are people out there who love and care about her, and believe in the things that she has to share about. You know, my abuse was very similar to hers in that I was 10-years-old until age 16 every day. And, so I want to ensure that she knows she’s not alone, and so, that is something that we would look forward to,” said Book.
On top of pursuing some other legislation, Book says she’s also preparing for her sixth annual 1,500 mile “Walk In My Shoes” journey across the state to help spread awareness and help survivors heal. It starts at the Southernmost point in Key West on March 14th end will end on the steps of the Old Capitol building in Tallahassee on April 22nd.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.