Statute of limitations should be repealed for sex crimes

October 15, 2018 — by Jeffrey Ma

Sixty women have accused disgraced former comedian Bill Cosby of rape, sexual assault, sexual battery or sexual misconduct. And while he was convicted recently and sentenced up to 10 years in prison, the 60 accusations altogether amounted to just one criminal and nine civil cases against Cosby, who is 81 years old.

Although Cosby could have faced more than just 10 indictments, the disparities between the number of accusations and legal actions filed against him are rooted in states’ statute of limitation laws, which set a time limit for the filing of charges against the defendant.

These laws originally existed to protect defendants, on the theory that plaintiffs should pursue cases within reasonable time frames and that witnesses’ recollections and evidence degrade over time.

However, for sex crimes, statute of limitation laws only act as obstacles to reaching justice for the victims.

So far, just seven of the 50 U.S. states have eliminated statute of limitations for all felony sex crimes. If anything, the Cosby case, recent exposure of Harvey Weinstein and uncovering of the Catholic priest abuse scandal in Pennsylvania indicate that 50 out of 50 states should abolish them in the case of sex crimes.

Current state laws vary greatly in term of the actual time limit for the statute. Most states hover around 20 years for felony sex crimes with a few exceptions at half that many years.

Rape is one of the least reported crimes nationally, with just an average 30 percent report rate, according to Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. Despite awareness efforts in recent years, being a rape victim still bears some degree of stigma in the eyes of society.

The two most damning trends, however, are those of the gender disparity between rape perpetrators and victims and of gender power imbalance in the workplace.

While efforts have attempted to destigmatize the rape of males, the statistical majority of rapes are still male-on-female.

The recent MeToo movement, where numerous powerful figures — mostly men — have fallen from grace, demonstrated the lopsided power scale in the industry.

When these statistics are taken in conjunction with the imbalanced corporate workspace, what is produced is a stifling of rape reports.

To put simply, women are hesitant to report men who have the power to potentially counterattack. By the time the victimized woman moves on from the corporate office and into a position to possibly lodge accusations, often the statute of limitations has already expired.

For the vast majority of Cosby’s accusers, such is the reality: It is legally impossible for them to seek retribution for Cosby’s crimes, resulting in the meager one criminal case Cosby faces.

Even in the nine civil cases Cosby faces, only two are within the actual statute of limitations. The other seven have expired, so instead, the plaintiffs all filed defamation cases. Even for these women, true criminal justice cannot be achieved, let alone for the other 50.

Perhaps even more morally repugnant is the recent revelations of systematic cover-ups of thousands of child sex abuse cases perpetrated by over 40 predator priests in the Catholic churches of Pennsylvania.

Even with these heinous crimes coming to light, most victims will not taste justice.

A vast majority of the accusations brought forth by victims are past the statute of limitations due to systematic church cover up and the nature of child and adolescent sex abuse.

This form of sex abuse is even less likely than corporate offenses to surface before the statutes run out; according to the National Center for Victims of Crimes, when children are the victims of sex crimes, they are often unable to properly process what is happening to them until much later in their lives.

Thus, cases remain unreported for decades, with many of the abused coming to terms with their experiences and speaking up only when they are well into adulthood. With the Pennsylvania statute of limitations set at 30, most accusation go unexamined — the victim unwilling, the rapist dead or the statute expired — as in this case.

Both instances of sex crimes — corporate or child — demonstrate the underlying flaws of statute of limitation laws when they are applied to sex crimes; the law should not penalize victims for overcoming trauma. If a victim needs 30 years to come to terms with their past abuse, then the legal code should give them the time to do so.