On Thursday the Justice for Victims Act (SB-813), which would remove the statute of limitations for prosecuting rape cases, passed unanimously in the California Assembly. Currently a rape survivor has 10 years to come forward and report their rape, but bipartisan supporters of the bill say that time limit is unnecessary.
"It was brought to my attention late last year that there was a statute of limitation on rape, which surprised me," says Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino). "After finding out that only 2 out of every 100 rapists are convicted and do any jail time I thought this was a serious issue." She adds, "There is no statute of limitations on murder, and people are murdered every day by accident. No one is ever raped by accident."
One of the folks who brought this issue to Senator Leyva's attention was Dr. Caroline Heldman. She's a professor of Politics at Occidental College and co-chair of the End Rape Statute of Limitations Campaign. Although the media has paid the most attention to the groups' survivors of Bill Cosby, ERSOL is a grassroots movement formed by rape survivors of low and high profile cases alike.
"The fact that only a third of survivors ever come forward should tell us there is a problem with reporting," says, Dr. Heldman. "I think the question really, when you look at the way our culture sets this up in our legal system is why anyone would come forward. What happens when people come forward is they're often blamed for their rape, they're shamed and stigmatized by their family and friends and strangers if they go public. And they likely won't get justice. Only 2% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail."
Heldman does say the climate is getting better, thanks in part to grassroots efforts such as ERSOL. "I think they're very vital," she says. "They've spurred a national movement to focus on sexual violence. We're living in a rape culture that doesn't take this crime seriously and even glories it in the media." Feldman adds that thanks to these types of efforts, we've been shifting away from this culture seriously since 2013.
Many states have already abolished their statute of limitations for rape, including Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Additionally if SB-813 becomes law, it would not be retroactive. "It's largely symbolic," says Dr. Heldman. "but it sends a strong message that rape is a serious crime." Dr Heldman is now involved in efforts to make abolishing the statute of limitations in rape cases a nation-wide movement.
"I think I would tell any rape survivor there is hope," says Senator Leyva. "We all stand behind you, you did nothing to bring this on, it was not your fault. I know so many rape victims/survivors feel shame, they should not. There are so many of us that have your back, and we want to make sur you always ALWAYS have the opportunity to seek justice."
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual violence, call 800-656-HOPE or visit the RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) website here.