House and Senate eliminate statute of limitations on sex crimes against children
By John Frank, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
In Print: Tuesday, April 27, 2010
TALLAHASSEE —Michael Dolce took 20 years to tell his story. And by then it was too late.
The neighbor who raped him at age 7 never saw a courtroom because the time limits to file a case expired.
"I was absolutely terrorized," the 41-year-old said. "And it took a long time to get to a place in recovery where I could
even say the name of the man who did this to me."
Dolce began telling Florida lawmakers this story six years ago, and it was recounted one final time Monday as the
House and Senate unanimously approved a measure to eliminate time limits for filing criminal and civil cases in sex
crimes involving children.
The effort met stiff resistance for years from a controversial player: the Catholic Church.
Even amid the widening sex abuse scandal concerning church clergy, the Florida Catholic Conference worked
behind the scenes this year to defeat the bill.
Mike McCarron, a lobbyist for the Catholic Conference, said the church does not want to limit criminal cases but is
concerned about the possibility of defending lawsuits seeking thousands of dollars in damages decades after
"There will be instances where the institution is not aware of any abuse, and they will have to defend it anyway,"
Given the timing, McCarron acknowledged the negative perception with the Catholic Church fighting the legislation.
His group never testified against the effort but sent letters to Senate President Jeff Atwater and sought to amend it.
"You don't want to look as if you don't care about children," he said. "We do care deeply about children.''
McCarron said the scandal is "the foremost concern" for the church, as demonstrated by the Vatican's recent
actions. "You can look at what the church has done to protect children," he said.
Under current Florida law, a child who is a victim of certain sex crimes can only press criminal charges until age 21.
The statute of limitations in a civil case against the perpetrator typically expires after age 25 and one against an
institution four years after the incident.
The legislation (HB525) makes it easier for future victims to seek justice in a courtroom and recover damages. It
eliminates time restrictions for claims or criminal charges in cases involving victims under 16.
Gov. Charlie Crist said recently he would sign it into law.
"This is one of the major undone pieces in regard to the state addressing the needs of sexual violence victims," said
Terri Poore, a lobbyist for the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence.
The bill won approval this year with help from victims like Dolce and Lauren Book-Lim, the 25-year-old daughter of
lobbyist Ron Book.
Book-Lim, who recently completed a 500-mile walk from Miami to Tallahassee to raise awareness of the issue, was
molested by her nanny as a child. Along the way, she said, she heard from numerous victims who were never able
to confront the perpetrator or obtain retribution.
"There is no statute of limitations to a victim's suffering," she said after watching the unanimous votes in the House
Dolce, a Royal Palm Beach lawyer, watched too. Even though he told his painful story numerous times before as he
pushed the bill for the past six years, hearing it get recounted once more on the Senate floor before the vote
brought him to tears.
"I hope it gives others courage to come forward," he said.
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.
[Last modified: Apr 26, 2010 11:40 PM]