Many of the bills that Sen. Mike Fasano has filed over the years have come from constituents who have brought ideas to him. Some came from people who walked in the door and simply said “there ought to be a law” and then proceeded to suggest one. Others came from a person who had experienced something in their own life that they did not want another person to go through. Ideas for laws have come in many very interesting, and often touching, if not heartbreaking, ways.
In the waning days of December, 1991, William Kennedy Smith was acquitted of sexual assault in one of the most highly publicized trials of that decade. During the Florida-based court case, a long-standing media tradition to not publicize the identity of rape victims was broken when the victim was identified during the trial. That slip-up paved the way for Sen.. Fasano’s sponsorship of a measure to enshrine in statute Florida’s rape-shield law a few years later. Thus began his nearly two decade long championship of victims of rape and other sexual violence.
In the mid-1990s, a crime victim came to our office and shared the horrific details of a sexual assault she experienced in her west Pasco home. She did not know the identity of her attacker. At that time, the statute of limitations for the prosecution of the crime was four years. In other words, if the unknown rapist was not apprehended and charged within four years of the crime’s commission, he would forever be free from prosecution.
Unfortunately in her case the four years passed, and he was never brought to justice. To add insult to a horrible injury, if the attacker showed up at her doorstep a day after the four-year clock ran out, and if she positively identified him as the rapist, law enforcement would have been helpless to assist her (unless he committed another crime).
This brave woman, knowing that there was nothing that could be done to help her personally, decided that she did not want someone else to experience the anguish of knowing a rapist could go free. She met in our office and shared the details of the crime and her desire to effect positive change for other potential victims of sexual violence. Sen. Fasano was moved by her account and filed legislation with the goal of accomplishing what she hoped. His bill, which ultimately became law, suspends the statute of limitations on the prosecution of sexual assault as long as the crime is reported within 72 hours.
Upon passage of the law, it was a joy contacting the victim and letting her know that her good work had paid off. The happiness in her voice was evident. By stepping forward and sharing her story she altered Florida’s law books forever We kept in touch for a period of time, but eventually she either moved away or just moved on with her life. In any event, her courage in stepping forward to help victims she would never meet was a testament to what one person can do. She took a tragic event in her life and turned it around for good. Although her name will not be enshrined in any law book or history textbook, the mark she has left is indelible.
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