UCF alumnus works to lengthen reporting time for sexual assault victims
For a survivor, reporting a rape can be just as traumatic as the crime itself. Now imagine, after building up the courage to press charges, you're told you're too late.
This is exactly what happened to Danielle Sullivan, who was sexually assaulted in February 2010 while on a business trip. When she went to the Orange County Sheriff's Office, she was told she was 43 days late in reporting the crime.
When Rene Plasencia, a UCF alumnus, heard about Sullivan's story, he was moved.
"I just got angry. I don't like seeing people being taken advantage of and I believe everyone deserves to have a voice," he said.
In the time since he heard this story, Plasencia was elected as a member of the Florida House of Representatives and has made it his mission to help Sullivan.
While Plasencia was campaigning, Sullivan went to work, determined that nobody else should be told they missed the deadline to seek justice. She wrote a 15-page petition, which lead to the 43 Days Initiative.
"The mission of the 43 Days Initiative is to eventually eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual battery for adults ages 16 and over," Sullivan said. "Right now … the bill's in the House and the Senate."
Currently, Florida ranks 48th out of 50 states on statue of limitations for reporting sexual assault. The bill will change the statute of limitations to 10 years, which Sullivan describes as baby steps. Thirty-two states already allow victims to report a sexual assault up to 10 years after the crime. In 18 states, there is no statute of limitations at all.
"It's a very powerful thing to think that an individual person can think about going and making a change. I'm not a lobbyist, I'm not a corporation … I just started calling people," Sullivan said.
Plasencia represents the 49th district, which includes UCF's main campus. He believes that universities need to do more to educate students on the growing problem of sexual assault.
"We're not doing enough on our college campuses; we need UCF to partner to with an organization like the Victim Service Center of Central Florida; we need to have advocacy and awareness within the campus; [we need someone] speaking to the different fraternity and sorority groups and speaking with the different clubs," he said. "We need to have a system in place that protects and advocates for someone who has been sexually battered, abused or raped."
Courtney Gilmartin, public information officer for UCF Police, outlined what the university does to help victims.
"In terms of reporting any sort of sexual assault, there's a couple of different options and I think what they all have in common and what our message is, is that it's extremely important to be victim centered," Gilmartin said.
She recommended anyone seeking help go to UCF Victims Services first because they will present students with the options they have, but will never make them do anything they're uncomfortable with. Gilmartin also mentioned that UCF tries to teach students how to help prevent sexual assault.
"I think it's really about education," she said. "We have the 'Not Anymore' module that all incoming students, graduate students included, are required to take and that's a really great resource for information about sexual assault prevention but also how to intervene as a bystander."
Sometimes, seeking help can be the hardest part of the healing process.
"We have a culture, in our society, where we question someone who has been sexually abused or raped in a way that causes them to think twice before coming forward. The term is called victim blaming," Plasenica said.
Sullivan said one of the worst things about rape is it takes away your trust in people and your feeling of self-worth. She put her life on hold for a year in order to heal and has found the 43 Days Initiative to be extremely empowering.
"This is my justice," she said.
Alex Wexelman is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.