Change in rape law closes loophole, inspires victim

Law allows rape charges after 5-year time limit in some circumstances

By Tim Evans
The Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A new law inspired by a strange turn of events, which allowed the rapist of an Indiana college student to walk free, extends the time frame for prosecuting some rape cases.

Senate Bill 94, dubbed “Jenny’s Law,” fixes the loophole that prevented prosecutors from charging a Carmel man, who last year admitted raping an Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis student nine years earlier.
Despite his confession, the man escaped prosecution because Indiana’s five-year statute of limitations for filing rape charges had expired.

“I am overwhelmed and super-excited,” Jenny Wendt Ewing, the bill’s namesake, told The Indianapolis Star. “I said throughout this process that everything happens for a reason and timing is everything.”

That philosophy extended to Gov. Mike Pence signing the bill into law Wednesday — 10 years, to the day, from when Ewing was raped by a former IUPUI teaching assistant.

“I never really did anything in the past to acknowledge that ‘anniversary,’TH” she explained, “because I didn’t want to allow him to take away another day in my life.”

But a phone call from the governor, Ewing said, helped finally transform that horrible experience into a victory. It is a step forward not just for her, Ewing said, but for all victims of sexual assaults.

For nine years before the man confessed, Ewing had kept the rape a secret. She was too fearful and ashamed to report the crime.

But her life changed after the 39-year-old man told Marion County sheriff’s deputies last year that he had raped Ewing. The revelation dredged up a wave of emotions for Ewing, who mustered the resolve to push for his prosecution. But only days after the confession, her hopes were dashed when she learned he was protected by Indiana’s five-year statute of limitations, which at the time applied to all rapes except those that caused serious bodily injury.

Now, the 36-year-old former Greenfield woman, who later last year married and moved to Oregon, said she sees the passage of “Jenny’s Law” as a new beginning.

Ewing, who went public with her story and pushed for changes in the Indiana law, is now helping advocate for a new Oregon law extending the statute of limitations for bringing rape charges. And a Florida woman, inspired by her story, has been a driving force behind a similar extension in Florida, which lawmakers approved and sent to the governor Wednesday.

Under the new Indiana law, prosecutors can file rape charges after the state’s five-year time limit has expired under three sets of circumstances:

— When DNA evidence is discovered or identifies a suspect.

— When new recordings — such as video or photographs — are discovered.

— When a confession is made.

In those cases — whether the new evidence is discovered six years after the crime or 50 years later — prosecutors then have an additional five years to file charges.

“I think we’ve really come up with a unique way to address this problem,” said Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, who sponsored the legislation.

“This will help us protect young ladies like Jenny going forward. This legislation is a classic example of a citizen bringing an issue to the attention of the legislature, and lawmakers following through to create a solution.”

State Rep. Christina Hale, D-Indianapolis, who sponsored a similar bill in the House, said she was “thrilled” with the changes.

Hale said Ewing’s case was so unique that it may never happen again. But the changes it inspired — particularly with the addition of the provision regarding new evidence, such as video of photographic depictions of the assault — should help many more young women in an era when people record nearly every aspect of their lives with their cellphones.

“Sadly, we are seeing this more and more,” Hale said of perpetrators or onlookers making videos of sexual assaults. She cited recent cases in Florida and Texas and said such videos may not come to light for years after the incident.

“Whether it is today or 15 years from now,” Hale said, “I think this is going to be a very effective way to catch (rapists) in the future.”

Ewing had initially hoped Indiana would eliminate its statute of limitations for rape, joining more than 20 other states that don’t have such time lines. But she also was realistic.

“That would have never gone through. There was just no way,” she said. “I have no disappointment at all. I believe it’s better to take little bits and pieces, than get nothing at all. And now we have a foot in the door. As more people speak out and people see how real and devastating this problem is, we can continue to build on that.”