Rape victims could be allowed to give testimony against their alleged attackers through a video recording, closed-circuit television or behind a two-way mirror under a bill that received its first committee approval Monday.
The protections could be allowed if a judge determines a victim could suffer emotional or mental harm by testifying against an attacker who's present in the court room. Current law allows the same provisions in violent crime cases for victims or witnesses under the age of 16 or who are intellectually disabled.
Bill sponsor Lizbeth Benacquisto said she's seeking to help protect people who have been attacked "in that most personal and violent and intrusive way.''
"If they want to bring their claim and they want to go to court, which takes a massive amount of courage, they should be able to do so with a little bit of protection without the man or woman who did these all these things to them sitting 10 feet away staring at them'' said Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, after the Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously passed the bill.
Blair Payne of the Florida Public Defenders Association spoke out against the bill (SB 634) because it doesn't allow the accused the right to confront the accuser.
"This bill automatically assumes there is already a victim,'' said Payne, a public defender serving several north Florida counties.
But Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, said victims are sometimes traumatized when seeing their attacker. She told the committee about a case where victims testifying against a serial rapists wet their pants out of fear.
"The crime of sexual violence is traumatizing in a very personal way and is deeply disturbing to the survivors of that assault in a way that affects their confidence over a lifetime,'' Dritt said.
The committee also approved a bill that would raise the age in which children can testify through closed-circuit television or by video from under 16 to under 18.