Sexual assault activists are finally seeing some progress in their efforts to change the laws surrounding statutes of limitations in cases of sexual assault and rape. “In the last two years, at least six states have extended or eliminated their statutes of limitations on sexual assaults,” according to The New York Times.
Much of this work was prompted by the women who experienced sexual assault at the hands of Bill Cosby. Over 50 women have accused Cosby of a number of sexual misconduct and other crimes, but a great number of these cases don’t fall within the set statute of limitations in the states in which they occurred—basically, the time after a crime takes place during which an individual can be charged for committing that crime. The idea is that over time, evidence disappears and memories fade, so it becomes harder and harder for crimes to be effectively investigated. But these excuses are changing now that we’re starting to understand more about trauma and why people might not come forward about sexual assault for years.
Those who support stricter statutes say that they encourage “timely reporting of crimes.” “Having these really long statutes of limitations where it makes it virtually impossible to disprove what the victim is saying is grossly unfair,” Nina J. Ginsberg, an attorney who has experience in sexual assault cases, told the Times. But this ignores the harsh social repercussions that exist for individuals who experience sexual assault and related traumas. Can’t innocent until proven guilty can still stand without actively participating in victim blaming?
A number of Cosby’s accusers have protested the laws and taken active efforts to overturn or modify their power. “‘If I’m going to be attached to him the rest of my life, then I would like something good to come out it,’” Beth Ferrier, one of the victims of Cosby’s crimes, told the Times.
Given the stigma that surrounds experiences of sexual assault and rape, it makes no sense that a statute of limitations even exists for this crime. People who experience assault are shamed and often made to feel that their experiences aren’t legitimate, so it takes time for them to publicly share their experiences. Dredging up this trauma and having to experience it all again in legal proceedings makes it that much more difficult, and the modifications to these laws can be seen as a small but important victory for individuals who have experienced sexual assault.