Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed into law on Friday an extension of the statute of limitations for some cases of sexual assault and removes the statute of limitation for serious sex crimes against children.
Without this law, it would have been more difficult to prosecute some serious sex crimes against children after the victim’s 30th birthday, according to KOMO News, and adult victims under the crime of third degree rape would have to remain under the statute of limitations of three years, regardless of when they report the crime. Under this new law, for adult victims, the statute of limitations could go up to 20 years, depending on what the charge is.
The House overwhelmingly approved the bill. It voted 94-1 on Wednesday.
State senator Manka Dhingra (D) said that the statute of limitations needed to be changed to acknowledge how hard it is for survivors of sexual violence to come forward.
“This is why this bill is so important because it really lines up what we know about trauma with our current system,” she told KIRO7.
The legislation also changed some language on consent so that active resistance would be removed from the definition of third-degree rape, and instead will define it as sex without consent.
Other states have recently moved forward with similar legislation extending the statute of limitations, for both civil and criminal cases in the past year. In March, New Jersey lawmakers proposed legislation that would allow victims of childhood sexual abuse file civil suits until age 55. Victims who weren’t allowed to sue because of the statute of limitations would be able to sue even if they are older than 55, under a two-year window. The bill passed both houses. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has said he supports extending the statute of limitations but he has not signed the bill yet.
Last December, California passed a law that would extend the statute of limitations for sexual assault from two to 10 years so that more survivors could file a civil action against their attackers. In 2017, California got rid of the statutes of limitations for almost all felony level sex offenses. For victims who want to pursue civil suits over a criminal trial, there is a lower bar for proving the defendant’s guilt and the process allows survivors to have more power in deciding how to proceed with the case.
Few states have absolutely no statute of limitations for any felony sex crimes. Only North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming have no statute of limitations for any felony sex crimes, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
In the case of childhood sexual abuse, since 2002, at least 29 states have at least changed prosecution deadlines to allow victims to consider criminal cases later in life, according to the New York Times. Among those 29 states, 15 of those states do not have a statute of limitations for prosecuting felony sexual assault of a minor. The New York state legislature passed a bill in January, The Child Victims Act, which allows victims of childhood sexual abuse to pursue prosecution against an abuser until they are 55 in civil cases instead of the current cutoff at 23 years old. Victims can also seek prosecution for criminal cases until age 28. The governor signed the bill into law in February.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) said the Catholic Church’s influence hurt previous efforts to pass bills extending the statute of limitations on prosecution of these crimes. “I believe it was the conservatives in the Senate who were threatened by the Catholic Church,” Cuomo said in a January press conference.
New York’s Catholic Conference previously opposed the legislation until lawmakers amended it to include prosecution of both private and publication institutions, according to CNN. There has been renewed focus on sexual abuse and the Catholic Church since a Pennsylvania grand jury report said more than 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had been credibly accused of sexually abusing over 1,000 children in cases that went back as far as the 1940s.
This week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted 162-22 for legislation that would create tougher penalties for people who don’t report child sexual abuse, the Associated Press reported. The bill also would not allow nondisclosure agreements in contracts prevent people from reporting such abuse to the police. State lawmakers are also considering eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse.