by Justin L. Seekamp
The fall-out from the child abuse scandals that occurred at several of the United States’ higher education institutions that caught the attention of many of us has resulted in a new law being passed by Florida Governor Rick Scott last Friday. The new law takes effect on October 1st, 2012 and has several key provisions that have been instituted by Florida’s law makers to protect the rights of victims. Details from the new law and commentary on its provisions come from a recent article from the Palm Beach Post and the entirety of the article can be found here.
The new law, titled “Protection of Vulnerable Persons” (HB 1355) contains several keys provisions that represents Florida’s toughened stance in the wake of the child abuse scandals from institutions of higher learning like Penn State University and Syracuse University. One such provision is that the new law imposes a $1 million-per-incident fine on college and university administrators who knowingly withhold information about child sex abuse on campus or at institution-sponsored events. The new law, like that of several other states that have passed a law similar to that of Florida, also adds coaches, athletic directors or university officials to the list of “mandated reporters” of suspected child abuse or neglect. Key differences with Florida’s new law is the $1 million-per-incident fine that applies to both public and private institutions as well as placing liability on college and university law enforcement agencies if they fail to turn over suspected abuse reports to prosecutors.
The new law also includes provisions, which many child sex abuse victims say is a critical change, that change when and how child sex abuse must be reported. Currently, Florida law limits mandatory reporting of child sex abuse to when the suspect is a caregiver of a child. This new law would require anyone to report suspected sex abuse, regardless of who the alleged perpetrator is, to the Department of Children and Families hotline. As well as increasing penalties for knowingly failing to report child abuse from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, elevating potential prison sentences from a minimum of one year to up to 15 years and fines from a maximum of $1,000.00 to a maximum of $5,000.00 Further changes from the new law includes a requirement that hotline operators refer abuse reports that do not directly accuse a caregiver to the appropriate authority, instead of advising callers to contact law enforcement officials. The most interesting aspect of the new law and a first in the United States, is the inclusion of a sexual abuse victim relocation assistance program that provides up to $3,000.00 per victim to help the victim of sex abuse to relocate.
Clearly, Florida has taken an aggressive step in preventing child sex abuse and sexual abuse in general. Both situations require such an aggressive stance and hopefully Florida’s new law will either prevent things like this from happening in the future or if not the repercussions faced by perpetrators will, hopefully, give victims some feeling of justice being served.