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Victim, 16, says shield law failed

The girl's father was charged with having sex with her when she was 13 and 14. But at times, the girl, now 16, seemed to be the one on trial this week.

Florida's rape shield law is supposed to protect victims from that, but it does not always work that way.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Bonnie S. Newton allowed testimony about the girl's background _ her character, her drug use, her alcohol use and her promiscuity _ to be presented to the jury.

"Victim rights took several steps backward when the rape shield law was not adhered to in this trial," said Penny Goatcher, victim advocate for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "This was a terrible thing for the victim."

The girl, who slammed the courtroom door on her way out, said she thought that bringing the charge was not worth what she went through on the stand when questioned by defense attorneys.

"I don't understand it," she said. "I'm not the one charged, he is. Why do they bring up my sex life and not his? I felt like I was on trial."

Assistant State Attorney Chris Frey argued that the girl's background was not relevant to the case because consent was not an issue. Background is usually relevant only when there is a question as to whether the alleged victim consented.

Defense attorneys, assistant public defenders Kim Berg and John Napolitano, argued that the girl's behavior was relevant to determine whether she was intoxicated, dreaming or lying at the time the alleged incidents occurred.

Late Thursday, the girl's 40-year-old father was found guilty of one of the four counts alleged against him. He was acquitted of the other three.

In that count, which the father admitted, he performed an internal "examination" on his 13-year-old daughter to see if she had slept with someone.

During closing arguments, Frey told the jury it was little wonder the girl had problems, given her family situation.

"All that garbage about smoking, running around with boys and skipping school is to trash-can her reputation," he said. According to testimony, the girl got drunk the night she said her father had sex with her and she had once wondered what sex with him would be like.

Napolitano told the jury that the girl got drunk and she dreamed that it happened.

"I'm not trying to trash (her)," he said. "But if she's a dope-smoking, school-cutting, sleep-around girl, I'm sorry, we have to present that to you."

The girl said that before she testified, she thought the law would protect her from a character assassination. But afterward, she was not surprised.

"My dad said if we went to trial, he was going to drag me through the mud, and he did," she said.

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