Palm Beach police handed State Attorney Barry Krischer in 2006 the names of five victims and 17 witnesses to build a case of rape and serial sexual molestation against Jeffrey Epstein.
The girls had been lured with the promise of $200 for an hour’s work giving Epstein a massage only to find themselves trapped.
Eight of the witnesses were 16- and 17-year-olds. All said Epstein had molested them.
But under Florida law, the accused could not be charged with molesting those eight. And that remains the case today.
“A misdemeanor battery is not a sex offense crime,” said Palm Beach Gardens attorney Michael Dolce, himself a sex abuse survivor.
“So when somebody feels they’ve been subjected to a sex offense, the expectation is that the law will respond by categorizing it as a sexual crime.”
Dolce said the Legislature must address this issue because molestation often is a precursor to even more serious sexual offenses.
State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach, agrees with Dolce that such “touching” crimes can precede rape or even murder. The current law might keep a victim from coming forward, she added
“There’s a broader problem, too – even with adult victims. Cases of groping or fondling are treated the same as a push or shove,” Dolce said. “Under the law, grabbing someone’s sexual organs is the functional equivalent of having shoved you in the arm.”
Dolce said when he talks to lawmakers or lawyers about fixing the loophole, a common concern is if the high school-age victim misrepresented her age.
But the state law is clear: The onus of confirming the age of one’s young partner is on the adult. It doesn’t matter if the teenager is lying.
Another refrain he hears is that 16- and 17-year-olds are having voluntary sex anyway with their peers.
“There is a world of difference between two 16-year-olds engaging in sexual activity and an adult having sexual relations with someone of that age,” Dolce said.
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