Sexual assault laws differ from state to state — depending on where you live, you have anywhere between three years and your entire life to report a rape. In California, the statute of limitations for rape is 10 years, but that may change soon. On Thursday, Aug. 18, the State Assembly of California passed the Justice for Victims Act, a bill that could potentially overturn the statute of limitations for prosecuting rape and other felony sex crimes. The bill, however, still needs to move through the State Senate and be signed by the governor before being officially enacted.
This is a huge deal for survivors of rape and other forms of sexual assault. First and foremost, the bill is a gesture of institutional support for survivors — it had bipartisan sponsorship and passed unanimously, 70-0 in the Assembly. More importantly, the bill could make it much easier for survivors of rape to come forward and seek justice.
"Currently, California has no time limit on prosecuting murder or the embezzlement of public money," Ivy Bottini and Caroline Heldman, co-chairs of the End Rape Statute of Limitations Campaign said in a press release. "Surely rape should be treated as seriously as embezzlement."
Under existing law, sex crimes must be prosecuted within 10 years after the initial occurrence — the only exceptions to this rule are if DNA evidence emerges after this period, or the victim in question is a minor. According to the Los Angeles Times, sex crimes against minors in California must be prosecuted before the victim's 40th birthday.
Most cases of sexual assault are not reported to the police — only 9 percent of rapists get prosecuted, 5 percent of rape cases lead to a felony conviction, and 97 percent of rapists receive no punishment. It is believed that anywhere between 15.8 to 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to the police, according to a statistic from the U.S. Bureau of Justice.
Part of this lack of prosecution stems from victims' reluctance to come forward after the assault has taken place — and in many places, California included, the statute of limitations means that time is of the essence. Many victims only feel comfortable seeking prosecution after seeking other forms of counseling, the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault reported. However, the statute of limitations could prevent them from doing so.
"There are some crimes that are so heinous that there should never be a statute of limitations,” Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen told the LA Times.
California's groundbreaking bill will now be passed on to the State Senate, which passed an earlier version of the legislation in June 33-0. From there, the bill will go on to Governor Jerry Brown.
Although the bill won't be retroactive, it will protect future survivors of sexual assault, no matter when they choose to come forward, if it is passed.