TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The fight to change Florida’s sexual assault law appears to be destined to fade away this legislative session, leaving a potential loophole for anyone accused of raping someone incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.
SB 836 sponsored by State Senator Linda Stewart (D) passed the full Senate floor vote unanimously last Monday, paving the way to what should have been a vote in the Florida House.
The bill would have erased the current language, “administered without his or her consent,” which provides what critics call an escape clause if the accused did not provide drugs or alcohol to the victim.
The current law holds a standard penalty of a second-degree felony for sexual battery if the offender did not provide the intoxicating drugs or alcohol.
Legal experts with RAINN, a national sexual violence watchdog organization, first raised concerns about the law before the start of the legislative session last year.
Stewart and State Rep. Emily Slosberg (R) sponsored companion bills to change the language.
“Offenders who take advantage of someone’s incapacitation – whether they caused it or not – should be held accountable,” Stewart said.
Both bills would have created uniformity by making the offense a first-degree felony, the same as when an individual administers a substance and then sexually batters a mentally incapacitated person.
According to Stewart, nothing in this legislation changes definitions of consent.
The State is still required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim did not intelligently, knowingly and voluntarily consent.
State Rep. Charles Brannon, chair of the House Criminal Justice Public Safety subcommittee never brought Slosberg’s version of the bill to a vote.
Without that, the only way the bill would pass is if the House took up the Senate version with an 11th hour vote.
The session ends this Friday.
News 6 contacted Brannon’s office several times by phone and email but Brannon never issued a statement or explanation.
Katrina Duesterhaus, a sexual assault victim at age 14, has been a major voice in the move to change the existing language for assault survivors.
“This is so important because so many of us have been denied justice,” Duesterhaus told News 6. “I am just so frustrated and baffled as to why it never moved forward in the House.”
Stewart told News 6 she will be “disappointed” if the bill does not pass this session, but she will reintroduce the measure next session.