Elimination of Florida sexual assault ‘loophole’ closer to Senate approval

SB-862 would drop language critics say places blame on rape survivors

The push to rewrite a loophole in Florida’s current sexual assault law is expected to face the final Senate committee hearing this week.

The State Senate rules committee is scheduled to vote on SB-868, but the future of the accompanying measure HB-525, sponsored by State Rep. Emily Slosberg, is not as clear.

Slosberg told News 6 she has been frustrated by the delay and has no indication why anyone on either side of the aisle would push back on the proposed changes.

“We’ve repeatedly requested the bill to be called,” Slosberg said. “This is a critical issue and it has become pervasive on our college campuses.”

[TRENDING: Here are 33 vanity plates deemed too racy for Florida roads | Separation of SpaceX rocket could be seen with the naked eye due to ‘jellyfish effect’ | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

Under the existing law if the victim is mentally incapacitated but knowingly under the influence of intoxicating drugs or alcohol, the alleged assailant can, in theory, receive a lesser charge.

“It really shouldn’t matter how the person became incapacitated,” Slosberg told News 6.” Whether it’s the person drinking on their own or the perpetrator administering the intoxicant, they should be treated the same.”

SB-868, sponsored by State Sen. Linda Stewart, of Orlando, is expected to pass the third and final vote in the Senate rules committee Thursday morning.

Stewart, a long-time champion of women’s rights, sponsored the measure after members of RAINN — The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network — brought the language to her attention.

The key wording, in RAINN’s view, places part of the blame of the sexual assault on the victim because the assailant can be charged with a first-degree felony only when the alcohol or drugs are “administered without the victim’s consent.”

“The issue to me is non-partisan,” Stewart said. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t have unanimous support across the board in every single committee.”

Sara Smith Baez, the director of Domestic Violence Sexual Assault and Stalking Prevention at Stetson University, said the current law needs to be changed because it creates a double standard.

“I’ve seen several students choose not to use the legal system because they were afraid of being blamed,” she said, “There’s never a good excuse for sexual assault.”

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety sub-committee would be the first of three committees to review Slosberg’s proposed legislation.

News 6 made several attempts to contact committee chair Rep. Charles “Chuck” Brannon of Macclenny, Florida, to see if the bill will be placed on the agenda.

As of this week, there are no House committee hearings scheduled in Tallahassee and if the bill is not heard in the house, it will die this session.

Rep. Slosberg told News 6 if the bill is not heard she will continue to fight to get the language changed next session.

About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.