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Florida bill seeks to halt statute of limitations in rape cases

State Sen. Linda Stewart, of Orlando, files bill

ORLANDO, Fla. – Donna Hedrick is still haunted by the day she says her high school chorus teacher forced her to have sex with him more than 40 years ago.

It was December 1971, and the freshman had just turned 15.

“I really didn’t fight him off. I was scared,” Hedrick  said. "(I was) almost convinced that this is what you have to do to be in a safe place."

Hedrick, a talented pianist with her school choir, told News 6 she needed that safe place because she was having trouble at home. She said she turned to her mentor for guidance and was invited to his home.

"And then it just happens,” she said. "He takes you, and it happens."

Donna Hedrick, at 15, in 1971.

The teacher, who is now retired, was never arrested or charged in the case.

Now, more than four decades later, she is going public with her story to launch a fight to change Florida law and eliminate the current four-year statute of limitations as it pertains to sexual abuse.

"It’s just time,” she said. "We decided that if we can’t do anything to make this person take responsibility for his actions, we need to do something to help others."

At least five other female students from her high school music class are prepared to go public as well, saying they were all victims of their 28-year-old teacher’s unwanted advances. 

Hedrick, married with grown children, met with State Sen. Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) to present her story, and Stewart immediately took action.

"This has to stop,” Stewart told News 6. "There needs to be no clock on sexual crimes for our young people."

Stewart filed Senate Bill 130 to remove the statute of limitations for prosecution of rapes involving victims under the age of 18.

Under current state law, first-degree felonies involving sexual battery must be prosecuted within four years after the offense. Prosecution of any other degree of felony sexual battery must commence within three years of the crime.

“We need (victims) to come forward when they feel comfortable and make this complaint, and we need to support them,” Stewart said.

Stewart said sexual predators should not have a safe zone from prosecution.

"It still has to go through the courts, but at least (the victims) get to have a process,” Stewart said.

Hedrick said she and another victim recently met with their former music teacher at a restaurant.

"He slammed his fist on the table and said, 'I am not a sexual predator!'" Hedrick said.

If approved by the legislature, Stewart’s bill would take effect July 1. 

The proposed legislation is expected to be assigned to a subcommittee within the next two weeks.

Even if approved, the former teacher will never face potential charges in the case because the law would not be retroactive.

 


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