Thursday, 27 February 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Ashley Foster said she was 13 years old when her cousin began molesting her, and the alleged abuse went on for years before she told police – only then it was too late to press charges.

Foster told a Senate committee on Tuesday that when she was 20, with the support of family and after several months of counseling, she decided to go to police. She said authorities wanted to pursue the case, but charges against people in Florida who molest children aged 12 or older have to be brought within three years of the alleged abuse. In Foster’s case, she missed that opportunity by two months.

“They had all the evidence they needed but yet they still couldn’t do anything,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “That shocked me at first, and then I was really upset and I was like, ‘That’s not right, he needs to be put away.’”

After listening to her testimony, the committee unanimously voted to approve a bill (SB 494) that would remove the statute of limitations for bringing molestation charges against people who abuse children under the age of 16. There is no statute of limitation for similar crimes against children younger than 12.

The bill makes an exception in the cases of older children if the molestation is committed by another child who is within four years of the victim’s age.

“I want to thank you for having the courage for coming here today, and I’m so sorry that you’re never going to have justice in your case,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park. “But I hope you have at least a small amount of peace in knowing that by you standing up here and doing what you’re doing, that there’s going to be justice for people in the state of Florida that are in similar situations in the future.”

Foster first worked with Rep. Mark Pafford, who said he met late last year with Foster, Palm Beach County State Attorney David Aronberg and representatives of the Boynton Beach Police Department, who investigated the case. “At 22 years old, she’s extremely brave to put this out there,” said Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers. It has one more committee stop before it can be considered by the full Senate. After the meeting, Foster said she was relieved and happy to see progress. It was the first time she’s testified before lawmakers.

“It’s no longer about me with trying to get my cousin prosecuted. It’s about other people and just letting this bill help others even though it might not help me,” she said. “There’s other victims out there. I don’t know who they are, but hopefully this gives them the courage to come out and say something.”