Turning back time for sexual assault victims

By Marie E. Matyjaszek

According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, commonly known as RAINN, it is estimated that only 1 out of 3 sexual assaults are reported. It's not news that most assault victims bottle the incident away, fearful of not being believed, of being chastised because they weren't sober, or were dressed a certain way. In the academic scene, the horrific handling of sexual assault by major colleges and universities has not encouraged victims to press forward with disclosure.

Most people also know that there is a huge backlog of rape kits sitting on shelves collecting dust, waiting to be tested, which leads a victim to believe no one cares, so why bother going through the steps of reporting the crime and the attempt to catch the perpetrator. Not to mention the significant emotional and physical toll taken by the court process, time off work, and the risk of loss at trial.

To add insult to injury, if a victim finally decides to speak up years later, he or she may find that the statute of limitations bars any prosecution from occurring as too much time has gone by since the crime was committed. The most noticeable case where this has happened recently involves comedian Bill Cosby and the dozens of sexual assault accusations against him spanning several decades.

Due in part to the Cosby case, and to eliminate this additional barrier to survivors of assault, California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed the "Justice for Victim's Act," (See California SB 813). It applies to "these crimes committed after January 1, 2017, and to crimes for which the statute of limitations that was in effect prior to January 1, 2017, has not run as of January 1, 2017."

Prior to this new law, prosecution of a felony sex offense in California had a 10-year expiration date from when the crime was committed. Prosecution of other sex crimes for victims under 18 years old expired on the victim's fortieth birthday. Basically, if a victim stayed quiet for a long enough period of time, the offender legally could not be charged with the crime, which is for lack of a better word to describe this, disgusting.

Michigan's sex crimes statute of limitations varies there is no limit of years for prosecution of Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC) in the first degree; but for CSC 2nd, CSC 3rd, CSC 4th, and an assault with the intent to commit CSC, those must be prosecuted "within 10 years after the offense is committed or by the alleged victim's twenty-first birthday, whichever is later." (See MCL 767.24). However, if there is DNA evidence that goes along with the alleged crime, and that DNA belongs to an unknown individual, prosecution can commence at any time. Once the DNA is matched to a known person, the 10-year limit applies from after the person is identified, or again by the 21st birthday of the alleged victim, whichever is later.

When you consider the devastating impact that sexual crimes have on the victim and his or her family, imposing a time period with which the perpetrator can be charged with the crime is shameful. What is heard by the victim is the court saying, "well, 10 years have passed, we have moved on, you should too." The law should afford the victim as much protection as the accused, but as long as statutes of limitations for these crimes are in place, it fails to do so.


Marie Matyjaszek is a family law attorney whose blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.

Published: Mon, Nov 07, 2016