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Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill that requires anyone to report known or suspected cases of child sex abuse on Friday.
Following the charges brought against Jerry Sandusky, Florida’s victim advocates saw a need to correct the state’s child sex abuse reporting laws.
The new law, dubbed the “Protection of Vulnerable Persons” gives Florida the toughest mandatory reporting requirements in the nation regarding sex abuse violations on schools and university campuses. In fact, under the new measure taking effect on Oct. 1, anyone who “willfully and knowingly” fails to report child sex abuse will face fines up to $1 million per incident as well as possible criminal charges.
Florida’s current law only requires mandatory reporting of child sex abuse when the suspect is a parent, guardian or caregiver of a child.
Many Tallahassee lobbyists and state senators hope the new law will strengthen the laws against child sexual predators and enforce institutions to protect children. Some expressed concerns about the new bill going too far when the initial plan was to fine universities $5 million per incident. However, once it was agreed to narrow the scope and reduce the penalties, the bill was supported.
The new law requires anyone to report any suspected incidents of child sex abuse and provides $2 million to promote the sex abuse hotline at the Florida Department of Children and Families and adds 47 additional hotline counselors.
In addition, hotline operators are required to turn over abuse reports to law enforcement and universities must refer their abuse reports to prosecutors.
Along with imposing fines on universities, the new law increases criminal penalties from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony for anyone who knowingly fails to report child abuse. This increases the consequences from one year in prison to up to 15 years and raises potential fines from a maximum of $1,000 to a maximum of $5,000.
Legislators apparently have set aside $1.5 million, or up to $3,000 per victim, to help with relocation costs for victims of child sex abuse.
This new Florida law is one of dozens passed or considered in other states as a reaction to the child molestation scandals at Penn State University, Syracuse University and the Citadel. In fact, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia also passed laws in the past month holding university officials accountable for reporting incidents of child sex abuse. The Penn State scandal was brought to the attention of the public in November. Former Penn State defensive coordinator Gerald “Jerry” Sandusky was arrested last year on charges that he sexually abused at least eight boys over a 15-year period. Following his arrest, the university fired long-time coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier. Athletic director Tim Curley and a vice president stepped down from their positions and are accused of failing to report suspected child abuse and perjury.
Under Florida law, this new bill encourages and mandates that every person who has reasonable cause to believe child sex abuse is occurring or has occurred to report it. It is important to note that this law orders any suspicions of child sex abuse to be reported as well, but quite often an investigation into these suspicions may reveal no actual sexual abuse occurred. While this law requires everyone to err on the side of caution in reporting anything that may appear to be abuse, the Florida Sex Crimes Lawyers at Whittel & Melton can thoroughly dissect these allegations to verify whether any actual abuse happened.
If you have been accused of child sex abuse or if you have any questions regarding the new child abuse reporting laws in the state of Florida, contact the Florida Sex Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton online or dial us statewide and toll-free at 1-866-608-5LAW (5529).
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