Donna’s Law a big victory for Pace Center for Girls

Law removes statute of limitations for victims of sexual trauma

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 8/26/20

ORANGE PARK – A new law is a big win for victims of sexual trauma and the Pace Center for Girls.

Donna’s Law removes the statute of limitations associated with sexual abuse to victims younger …

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Donna’s Law a big victory for Pace Center for Girls

Law removes statute of limitations for victims of sexual trauma

Posted

ORANGE PARK – A new law is a big win for victims of sexual trauma and the Pace Center for Girls.

Donna’s Law removes the statute of limitations associated with sexual abuse to victims younger than 18, and Pace CEO Mary Marx said this is a big win in the center’s continual fight on behalf of women in the hands of their organization. This is because it gives women time they need to understand their trauma and the justice system the freedom to prosecute abusers.

“When someone is victimized by sexual abuse, they’re often afraid or feeling perhaps threatened by their abuser,” Marx said. “They might feel shame or feel as if it is their fault. People might ask why it took them so long to report their abuse? It’s about coming to terms with that sexual trauma.”

Marx said this can be especially difficult to do because people are often victimized by somebody they knew and trusted. Donna’s Law came by way of Donna Hendrick, a woman who didn’t report her sexual abuse for 40 years.

Marx said data shows one in four women will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18 and that number rises for Black people and it rises even higher for Native Americans.

“That’s why it’s important to prosecute abusers,” Marx said of the data. “That’s part of the process of healing for victims. They need to be able to prosecute their abuser and see justice take place.”

Pace said Donna’s Law gives a stronger voice to women who speak out against their abusers. The law was passed just a month after the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Florida, however, didn’t ratify that amendment until 1969. Pace began in 1985 which is just 16 years after women obtained the right to vote.

Marx said Pace continued the fight for women’s rights shortly after it began.

“Our founder was working with largely boys and some girls going into the juvenile justice system,” Marx said. “What was driving girls into the system was very different than what was driving boys into the system though. There was a history of victimization there.”

“Judges were well-intended and they thought they were protecting girls by putting them in the system but it was actually harming their futures and our founder recognized that.”

The founder, Vicki Burke, realized that the center needed a much more holistic approach to healing trauma and helping girls become successful. Trauma impacts everything, Marx said, and it’s important to recognize that and give a voice and agency to the women beyond their trauma.

With Donna’s Law passed, Pace said it will continue to advocate for additional legislative measures that often hold women back. Marx said direct filing is in their sights. Direct filing is where children are filed directly into the adult system, bypassing the juvenile system completely. She said the goal is to prevent this as it removes an important step in a child’s reform process.

“A child’s brain is still developing and there is still the opportunity to reform them,” Marx said. “They need accountability and action which they won’t necessarily find in the adult system. It wasn’t designed for them but the juvenile system was and that’s why we think they need to go through it.”

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