November 13, 2019

Eliminating the Statute of Limitations in Ohio: The Right Thing to do for Ohio Survivors in 2019

OAESV

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our blog in 2015.

On November 13, 2019, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on Senate Bill 162: Eliminate Statute of Limitations for Rape; Spousal Exceptions, sponsored by Senators Nickie Antonio and Sean O’Brien. There is also a companion bill in the House, House Bill 279: Removes Limits on Prosecuting and Proving Certain Sex Offenses, sponsored by Representatives Boggs and Galonski. 

OAESV has been involved in previous efforts to remove the Statute of Limitations, including an effort that resulted in a modified bill that, instead of eliminating the statute of limitations, increased it to 25 years with a 5-year DNA match extension. As an agency, we believed that this incremental improvement was better than no improvement at all, but we know that the only way to ensure justice for all survivors is to eliminate the SOL completely, and we will never stop fighting until that goal is achieved.

Unfortunately, bills are only guaranteed one hearing after they are referred to committee. This bill is received its only guaranteed hearing on November 13th, during which the sponsors were the only parties allowed to testify (this is standard first hearing procedure). Without support from member programs, individual citizens, and other groups, we are at great risk of never having another hearing.

Follow these links for further details on the two companion bills:

We need your support on this bill. Here's why we're behind it: 

1) The impact of rape doesn’t go away after 20 years.

Rape is a violent, traumatic crime suffered by a significant number  of individuals.  It is well-documented that survivors of sexual violence are vulnerable to higher rates of long-term, chronic physical and psychological ailments.  Additionally, the financial cost and economic impact of sexual violence is staggering, both for individual survivors and for our society as a whole.  What this means is that the impact of sexual violence is enormous and extends far beyond a clock that ticks for twenty years at a time.  We must all be willing to face this reality and choose to believe that rape is serious enough to take seriously.  Survivors deserve justice and healing, no matter how long it takes.

2) Most survivors don’t report, and there’s a reason for that.

Less than half of all rapes are reported to law enforcement, and of those that are, very few are prosecuted.  How would eliminating the statute of limitations help?  For starters, it would give survivors the time they need and deserve to gather the strength, courage, and support needed to report the crime and to participate fully in the criminal justice process.  Due to the scrutiny, blame, fear, intimidation, and shaming that survivors of rape commonly face, many feel unable or unwilling to come forward until long after the crime occurred.  Many survivors cannot fully remember or articulate all the details of the crime for quite some time.   This is due to the neurobiological impact of the trauma of rape, a reality that many in the criminal justice system are just beginning to learn about.  Additionally, some witnesses may not be able or willing to come forward until many years after the fact.  In short, until our society in general, and individuals in positions of authority in particular, are able and willing to embrace an understanding of the trauma of rape and what survivors endure in coming forward, eliminating the statute of limitations will help to alleviate at least one barrier: time.

3) Most rapists are serial offenders.

Research conducted on incarcerated sex offenders has revealed that the majority of rapists are serial offenders.  In Cleveland, Elias Acevedo, Sr. was recently sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting multiple family members and murdering two women.  Offenders like Acevedo are not the exception.  They are the rule.  The same research on incarcerated offenders found that not only do most rapists tend to commit more than one rape, but many commit multiple rapes as well as other types of crime – including murder and other acts of interpersonal violence against adults and children.  By eliminating the statute of limitations for rape and sexual battery, we stand a greater chance of catching and prosecuting to the fullest extent possible criminals who have committed multiple crimes, thus promoting justice for numerous victims and making our communities safer in the process.

4) Speaking of the rape kit backlog…

It’s one thing if a survivor of rape is unable or unwilling to report the crime, or if there is insufficient evidence to prosecute.  It’s quite another if evidence that could convict that rapist is sitting on a shelf collecting dust.  Efforts to address the rape kit backlog in Ohio have revealed eye-opening examples of justice and the tremendous relief and healing for survivors that can come from finally analyzing and linking evidence from years-old cases.  Unfortunately, these efforts have also revealed devastating examples of injustice when cases were not taken seriously and that evidence has been analyzed too late.  Survivors of past rapes should not have to hear that the clock has run out on prosecuting their rapists.  By eliminating the statute of limitations, we can ensure that future survivors won’t face this same outcome.

5) It’s a matter of doing what’s right.

Common arguments against eliminating the statute of limitations include that: 1) there are too many logistical and evidentiary challenges in investigating and prosecuting rape so long after the fact; 2) it is not judicious for defendants to be subjected to prosecution for rape so long after the fact; and 3) it is unreasonable to equate the statutes of limitation of rape and murder.  It is true that rape can often be difficult to investigate and prove in our judicial system.  But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  No one is suggesting that the standard for conviction should change.  If a rape cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt – whether it’s six months or twenty years after the fact – then there would not be a conviction.  Just as in murder cases, evidence in rape cases can be discovered or become available over time.  Survivors of rape also deserve justice, no matter how long it takes.

Eliminating the statute of limitations for rape and sexual battery is not a cure-all for what ails the injustice of sexual violence in our state.  On the contrary, it’s but one of many steps that can be taken.  Before anything else, we must first accept the fact that rape is serious enough to take seriously.  Only then can we do what’s right for survivors in Ohio.

You can help!

We need your help to ensure that survivors of sexual violence have access to justice for their crimes, no matter how long it takes.  Please contact your legislators and/or members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and ask them to support a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for rape and sexual battery in Ohio. If you are a survivor of sexual violence and are interested in providing testimony about this issue, please contact Taylr Ucker-Lauderman, Director of Communications for the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, at communications@oaesv.org.

We've provided fact sheets, a detailed template for emailing Ohio Senators, and contact information here.

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