Opinion: End the statute of limitations on sexual assault

Caroline Kincade, Staff Columnist

In recent years, the revolutionary idea of treating women with respect in the workplace has been reinforced by millions of social media surfers, formal publications and progressive women’s rights organizations. With the rise of the #MeToo movement and popular aversion to rape culture, the question of the statute of limitations on rape cases has been on everyone’s minds. 

Women’s rights advocates have long been in support of removing the statute of limitations on rape allegations, but because the decision is left up to states, there are varying time limits.

Two years ago, The New York Times published a controversial article about holding men accountable for their abuse of power. Crazy, I know. Harvey Weinstein, a once influential movie producer, snowballed the #MeToo movement with his years of sexual misconduct and subsequent cover-ups. The disgraced movie mogul now symbolizes the vile mistreatment of women, not only in the film industry, but across all workplace environments. 

Although his criminal allegations are attributed to two specific women, many prominent actresses and film industry professionals have said they were sexually harassed by the producer since the accusations have surfaced. More than 90 women have come forward as Weinstein’s victims over the course of his career.

And they can’t even press charges. Why? Because of the statute of limitations.

After Bill Cosby’s 2016 rape and sexual misconduct complaints, followed by a conviction of three counts of sexual assault in 2018, former California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that eliminates the statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes committed after January 1, 2017. 

Even though this bill doesn’t benefit the victims of these cases, so many other rape victims are now free to come forward without the pressure of a statute of limitations. It’s really that easy.

Even still, these cases only seem to matter because the women assaulted were models or actresses. What about the single mother of three afraid to bring charges against her kids’ father? What about a college freshman that was raped at a fraternity party and wasn’t ready to talk about it until 15 years later? What about a sex worker traumatized by an experience? Don’t they deserve justice?

And I know what you’re thinking: In theory, the statute of limitations is in place to prevent false accusations. Let me ask you this: Do you have enough faith in our law enforcement to clear the muddied water? The way that sex crimes are investigated is vastly different from even five years ago, and the purpose of that is to serve justice. Investigative professionals and the judiciary system have made, albeit small, steps to erase the institutional misogyny that exists within our society. The term “he said, she said” is used to describe when a woman accuses a man of rape and he denies it. The talk of “he said, she said” cases is made up by people who inherently mistrust women, and in fact, these types of cases often lead to more evidence and more testimony. 

The fact is that the potential issues caused by erasing the statute of limitations on rape are easily fixable with more law reform, but they just don’t want to. They don’t see a woman’s pain as a priority, and they probably won’t until we make enough noise. There’s no time limit on an assault victim’s pain, terror and self-loathing. So, why is there a limit to report it? States need to stop protecting predators and start protecting victims.