TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – One out of every three girls and one out of five boys are victims of sexual assault before turning 18 and often, by the time they’re ready to come forward, it’s too late to hold their offender legally accountable.
The bravery of one survivor was the driving force behind a new law that has removed the statute of limitations for sexual battery on a minor.
Donna Hedrick was 15 when she was raped by her choir teacher.
“He told me don’t tell anybody, cause nobody will believe you,” Hedrick said.
Years later, she and other victims of the same man came forward and even got a confession… but it was too late to press charges.
“This is very, very common. These children are traumatized by this,” said state Rep. Scott Plakon, who co-sponsored the new law bearing Donna’s name.
The statute of limitations for such crimes varied wildly depending on the age of the victim and the aggressor.
“It was very confusing and I think that is primarily what we needed to fix most of all,” said state Sen. Linda Stewart, who sponsored Donna’s Law in the Senate.
Hedrick wanted to ensure the same thing would never happen to another child.
She spent three years advocating for change and telling her story to lawmakers.
"The bill is to protect our children who are sexually molested and raped. It helps those children, children like me, who weren't able to deal with their abuse in a mature manner, to do so as an adult," said Hedrick, telling her story publicly for the first time before a House committee in February.
The hard work paid off.
It was signed by Gov. DeSantis on June 23 and, as of July 1, it removed the statute of limitations for victims’ of sexual battery under the age of 18. Now victims can press charges against their aggressors whenever they’re ready to come forward.
But the law isn’t retroactive, so it won’t apply in Hedrick’s case. She said it’s about helping future victims.
“That is the message to the offender that, that child is going to always have the right to come after them,” Hedrick said.
The new law doesn’t affect due process. Accusations will still need to be backed by evidence, but it will provide some hope for justice for future victims.