One of the biggest problems plaguing Florida schools is that many school districts continue to lay the blame for sexual abuse on the victims when they are sued. While this continues to be a problem in other states as well, courts in eight states so far have barred legal defenses from attempting to put the blame for sexual abuse entirely or even partly on victims.
The states that no longer allow school districts to legally defend themselves against lawsuits brought on by students who are sexual assault victims by trying to blame the victims include California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Minnesota, Washington, South Carolina and Utah. Courts in these states reasoned that children aren't mature enough to consent to sexual behavior, which means that they cannot be blamed if they are victimized.
Unfortunately, Florida courts have yet to rule on this topic. Even more unfortunate is that because of this lack of a ruling, school districts in St. Lucie, Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties have all attempted to lay complete or partial blame on students who were sexually abused at school, including some students who are as young as six.
In a recent case handled by The Law Office of Gloria Seidule, the St. Lucie County School District tried to blame multiple 14-year-old girls of consenting to sexual harassment and abuse by their 9th grade algebra teacher who was later convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The school district also tried to minimize the damages to the girl by arguing her relationship with the teacher was no different than a relationship with a 14-year-old boy. These types of defenses used by the St Lucie County School District are reprehensible and should not be allowed in the courtroom. It is incredible that a school district that is charged with the duty to care for children while in its custody would even consider, or allow its attorney to consider, raising consent as a defense.
The Palm Beach County School District's behavior in the matter is particularly questionable as they attempted to claim that four victims, who were molested as third graders by a teacher back in 2005, were old enough to have known better. Two of the victims, who are now adults, shared that they felt ashamed as a result of this victim blaming and that school districts that attempted to blame the victims were only deterring others from coming forward if sexual abuse occurs.
Not only has the state of Florida neglected to address this matter, they have encouraged this type of legal defense under a defense known as comparative negligence. Comparative negligence allows the responsibility between the victim and the party that is being accused of negligence to be split between the two. This law can be used against victims as young as six years old, although it doesn't specify whether it can be allowed in sexual abuse cases.
Many lawyers argue that this defense should not be a viable one for school districts since the law states that children under 16 can't consent. However, the comparative negligence defense is rarely heard in court because those lawsuits are generally settled or dismissed before they make it to trial.