Should Florida Lengthen Time For Prosecuting Sexual Assaults?
Local advocacy groups for survivors of sexual assault are throwing their support behind two proposed bills aimed at helping in the pursuit of justice.
Each bill calls for lawmakers to change the statute of limitations currently in place, which would allow more time for prosecutors to pursue these cases.
From the moment a survivor of sexual assault comes to the Women's Center of Jacksonville, they're made to feel safe. The building inside is decorated with art and support is at every corner. Executive Director Teresa Miles said the group has thought of everything to help.
"You'll see some healing artwork on the walls," Miles said. "You'll see that we've structured the exam rooms with a wall to allow for privacy."
The message is simple: Survivors aren't alone.
"I think closure is something that doesn't really happen for sexual assault survivors," Miles said. "What does happen is the opportunity for coping, for healing."
Miles believes justice can help with the healing process.
Florida lawmakers are returning to Tallahassee in March, where they will look at two bills aimed to make that process easier.
If passed, House Bill 83 would increase the statute of limitations to 15 years.
That's nearly double what is currently allowed under Florida law. It also calls for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to develop a better system for tracking rape kits. That would have to be in place by 2020. Senate Bill 130 would go a step further and would eliminate the statute of limitations for survivors under the age of 18.
Miles says these types of survivors have come to the Women's Center as adults.
"Oftentimes, it is family. It's something that you know and someone that you trust," Miles said. "It could take years for you to be able to speak about that. Placing a limitation on that is very difficult."
If the statute of limitations changes in the state of Florida, some survivors could feel more empowered to report their attack. Teresa Miles says last year, 352 women and men went to the Women's Center for a forensic exam. That was within five days of the assault.
Miles also says since the #MeToo movement has become more public, the women's center has seen a 53 percent increase in people calling.
It will take some time for these bills to make their way through the Florida Legislature. But Miles believes they are a big step in helping survivors.
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, the rape crisis hotline through the Women's Center of Jacksonville is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The number to call is 904-721-7273.
More information can also be found on its website: https://womenscenterofjax.org/