TALLAHASSEE, Fla.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In the wake of the child abuse cover-up scandals at Penn State and Syracuse that rocked the nation last year, Florida has enacted the most expansive abuse reporting law and the nation’s toughest penalties for failing to report abuse.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott today signed into law Florida HB 1355, “Protection of Vulnerable Persons,” which imposes a fine of up to $1 million on any public or private college or university whose administration or law enforcement agency willfully and knowingly fails to report child abuse that occurs on its campus, in any of its facilities, or at/during college or university-sponsored events and functions.
“This law sets a national standard for abuse reporting and imposes penalties that help ensure institutions will put the safety of children before protection of their own reputations,” said Lauren Book, CEO of the Lauren’s Kids foundation, survivor of childhood sexual abuse and architect of the bill. “With this law, our legislature and Governor have declared that child sexual abuse will no longer be tolerated.”
The law is intended to prevent the kind of institutional cover up that allowed the sexual abuse of children to persist for so long in several of the highly publicized national cases.
"Recent high profile cases serve as stark reminders that we must continue our work to protect the most innocent among us," said Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto. "This new law will expand reporting requirements for all individuals who see or suspect sexual abuse, and it will hold accountable those people and institutions who have an obligation to protect our children from sexual predators. I am proud to stand with Lauren Book and all those who have worked so hard to make this important law become a reality."
Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Dorworth said the Florida law is a model for the rest of the country to follow.
“When Florida took a hard look at its laws after news of the Penn State scandal broke, we found some serious loopholes that needed to be fixed,” said Rep. Chris Dorworth. “I am proud to say that we now have the most comprehensive child abuse reporting law in the nation.”
The bill also:
- Requires the Florida Child Abuse Hotline to accept child abuse reports even if the suspected abuser is not a direct caregiver. It also makes clear that everyone must report abuse, not just professionals previously specified as mandatory reporters, such as teachers and health care professionals. With this change, Florida has the strongest and the only fully mandatory abuse reporting law in the country.
- Provides relocation assistance for victims of sexual assault where there is a reasonable fear for their safety if they remain in their homes
“For years, Florida has helped victims of domestic violence relocate to get away from their abusers, but sexual assault victims had no such assistance when they had been assaulted in their homes, or an assailant otherwise knew where they lived,” said Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence. “This assistance will speed recovery and enhance safety by helping victims move somewhere unknown to their assailants.”
Statement by Florida Governor Scott:
“While Florida has a 40-year low crime rate, we must continue to protect the rights of individuals affected by crime. This critical legislation I have signed into law shows the valuable steps Florida has made in protecting the rights of victims,” said Governor Rick Scott. “April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and this week is National Crime Victims' Rights Week and it is an important time to raise attention to promoting victims’ rights and remember those lives affected by violence. We will continue to work to keep our communities safe so that fewer people are victims of crime.”
Lauren's Kids is a non-profit organization in South Florida that works to prevent sexual abuse through education and awareness and helps survivors heal.