Florida statute of limitation legislation could reveal hundreds of sex abuse cases

'Donna's Law' would give a voice to victims blocked by loophole

ORLANDO, Fla. – It's been a year since Donna Hedrick broke her silence about alleged sexual abuse at the hands of her local high school choral director, something she kept to herself for more than 40 years.

"He admitted everything," she said. "He told me he was in a bad marriage."

Hedrick and two other women, who say they were abused by the same music teacher when they attended the school, have gone public to lead an effort to change a legal loophole that places an expiration date on alleged abuse.

Under current Florida law a four-year statute of limitations for victims age 16-17 creates an expiration date for victims who may have been abused but were too afraid or embarrassed to come forward.

In an exclusive interview with News 6, Hedrick said it is not easy to speak out when something like that happens to you at any age.

"I was two weeks past my 15th birthday," she said. "From now on if someone abuses children sexually, they will never stop looking over their shoulder. Somebody is going to come after them someday."

State Sen.Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, first sponsored a measure to eliminate the loophole last year but was unable to get support on the Florida House side for a full vote.

The veteran Orlando lawmaker says she was inspired by Hedrick and many other survivors who have remained silent until now.

"I've actually had hundreds of women that have come forward with similar situations," Stewart said. "If we can get this through it will be like a victory for healing."

Senate Bill 170 removes the statute of limitations for prosecuting sexual battery against any victim under the age of 18, regardless of whether the victim reports the crime within 72 hours.

Stewart said she has bipartisan support with accompanying legislation in the House cosponsored by  Republicans Reps. Jim  Davis and Scott Plakon.

HB 199 Sexual Battery Prosecution Time Limitation Designates the act "Donna's Law" in recognition of Hedrick's courageous fight to change the existing law.

The Senate version earned unanimous support in the Criminal Justice Committee last month and is expected to be reviewed by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice chaired by Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg before the end of the year.

The state legislature schedule is limited and Stewart is hopeful the bill makes it through all three subcommittee hearings before the end of the year. 

If approved, the new law would go into effect July 1, 2020.

Here's the Florida legislative schedule:

  • Monday, Nov. 4 – Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 12 – Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.
  • Monday, Dec. 9 – Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.

For more information, click here.

About the Author: