WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — Sexual violence affects millions of people each year in the United States.
Local lawmakers, survivors and advocates have teamed up to call attention to the fact that sexual assault is widespread, and that victims have a right to privacy if they choose to seek justice.
Protect Survivors’ Privacy
HB 873 filed by Senator Lori Berman (D-Boca Raton), Representative Robin Bartleman (D-Weston) and Representative Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin (R-Miami) is moving through the Florida legislature, which provides some peace of mind for survivors who wish to come forward to authorities.
The bill, Protection Information of Sexual Offense Victims, allows victims of sexual violence or exploitation to prevent the spread of any legally sealed information or records that could identify them as a victim.
Currently in Florida, a victim’s identity is sealed from public record through Marsy’s law.
“But every once in a while, inadvertently, that name will get out,” said Bartleman.
This legislation gives a survivor a chance to initiate civil proceedings for an injunction against someone who violates their privacy.
“We know that only two in 10 sexual assault victims actually even report their crime because their embarrassed,” said Bartleman. “People should not be afraid of waking up and finding their name and what happened to them all over social media.”
Victims of sexual violence have already endured enough and sometimes they live with a fear of backlash or not being believed.
That’s something survivor and advocate Mindi Fetterman, founder of The Inner Truth Project, knows all too well.
“When I was about 7-years-old, I was sexually molested by my mom’s boyfriend,” said Fetterman. “I told my mom, and she didn’t believe me.”
As she got older, she was silenced by fear.
“When I was 16, I was drugged, and I was gang raped. Because, I wasn’t believed when I was younger, I didn’t think I would be believed after this happened. I didn’t share it with anybody. I kept it to myself.”
Fetterman has since dedicated her life to help survivors who kept their stories hidden thanks to her organization.
“There are going to be people that are going to listen, that are going to validate your pain,” said Fetterman.
In 2022, 565 people reached out to Palm Beach County Victim Services (PBCVS) for resources and assistance after being sexually assaulted.
“It’s a very personal crime,” said Nicole Bishop, Palm Beach County Victim Services Director. “It’s very intimate, and individuals need to be ready to reveal that this is something that has happened to them.
This week, they raised awareness about the need to end sexual violence during the annual 'Field of Hope' event.
Small flags are placed outside a sexual assault response center off of 45th Street and Australian Avenue in West Palm Beach representing the number of adult and child survivors getting help by Victim Services.
In it, are handwritten notes from community members rallying to remind survivors they’re believed and that they’re not alone.
“It’s very important that we protect the anonymity of these victims and uphold their rights, so that’s why this particular bill is important,” said Bishop.
PBCVS is hosting Ceremony in the Gardens, an event for survivors to tell their stories for hope and healing. It will take place at Mount Botanical Garden beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 25.
The bill is scheduled to go before the Florida House Judiciary Committee next Tuesday, April 11.
If you or anyone you know needs support, reach out to Palm Beach County Victim Services 24/7 Helpline at 561-833-7273.