Monday, June 25, 2007

Washington State Rapists Can Be Free and Clear In One Year and One Day

I had assumed that the statute of limitations had expired for my rape, but after my post Man charged with rape 32 years later I had to find out for sure.

According to this pdf from the National District Attorneys Association which contains the statute of limitations related to rape for each of the 50 states (updated through 2001 at least), in Washington State where I was raped, the statute of limitations is 10 years, but the rape must be reported within one year if the victim was 14 or older at the time of the crime.

I was stunned.

Because I was 15 at the time of the crime (2nd degree rape), my rapist was legally off the hook before the end of my first year of high school since I wasn't able to tell anyone during that first year -- anyone except my rapist that is. Because criminal rapists were assumed to be strangers and monsters who maimed their victims, I didn't even consider contacting the police and filing a police report. My rapist got an earful more than once after the shock wore off which was as close I could get to holding him accountable for raping me.

But realizing now that he was legally off the hook around the time I got my driver's license makes me want to repeat every scornful word and add a few more for good measure. I wonder if he looked up the statute of limitations or if he was so certain that nobody would believe that I was a victim of a real rape that he didn't give the statute of limitations a single thought.

I wasn't able to tell, but that's not the same thing as not having any supporting evidence.

If the Planned Parenthood office is still in my hometown and if they have kept all their old records, I do have supporting evidence of sexual contact since I went there when I was terrified of being pregnant. But I can't remember at this moment if I was too terrified to give them my real name and because of the statute of limitations there is no point in pulling those memories back up to the surface and reliving the fear that I might be pregnant and that everybody would treat me as if I were the immoral one.

The woman who was preparing to do my pelvic exam (I can't remember if she was a doctor or a nurse) didn't ask about rape, only asked if I had been sexually active yet. What a question to ask a rape victim. I wonder if my open distress was noted in my file as I tried to express the fact that I wasn't sexually active but that I still might be pregnant from one of two rapes committed by my boyfriend even though I didn't feel I had the right to declare myself a crime victim. I remember saying, "I've only had sex twice" and then saying something that expressed my wish to not do it again. She seemed to assume that my opinion was based on societal attitudes rather than trauma and I didn't have the fight in me to set her straight.

As I think about conversations I had with classmates about my boyfriend including one who told me not long after the second rape that he had another girlfriend, there might be enough supporting evidence to prove that he had sexual contact with me even if there wouldn't be enough supporting evidence to prove second degree rape.

Then there was my call around the one-year anniversary of my first rape to the local mental health crisis line and my subsequent appointments with counselors which focused on my distress at not being a virgin and my fear of disappointing my parents. I couldn't say rape since the memories were still too fresh and raw to bring anywhere near the surface without rendering me mute except for the sound of my crying. I thought all I got out of those sessions was the temporary relief of crying, but if there were no statute of limitations, my records might provide supporting evidence.

This shows me clearly that the requirement to report rape within the first year doesn't line up with any magical time when all evidence is gone. It also shows me that my assumption that I had absolutely no supporting evidence might have been dead wrong.

In essence for most rapes in Washington state the real statute of limitations is 1 year, not 10. That limitation clearly benefits rapists. Apparently, it isn't fair in Washington state to keep rapists on edge for more than one year. I've always been proud of my home state until now.

That law means that by the time I reached my 18th birthday, my rapist had been free from legal accountability for about a year and a half.

That's wrong. Just flat out wrong.

For anyone who wants to look it up, here's the current statutes of limitations for Washington state.

Fortunately, there was an attempt to change this unacceptable statute of limitations in Washington state in 2005 so there would be no statute of limitations for the crimes of rape in the first and second degree, if the victim is under the age of 18, and for rape of a child in the first and second degree.

Unfortunately, this change didn't make into the final bill which was signed into law last year. The change wouldn't have made a difference in my case since it isn't retroactive but it would have made a difference in all the rapists who have reached legal safety since this bill became law. The defeated update doesn't go far enough. There should be no statute of limitations on rape -- period.

Every month that goes by with this existing statute of limitations allows more rapists to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they got away with rape.

If rape is really the second worst crime after murder as many people claim, then we need to treat it that way not only in sentencing but in setting the statutes of limitations.

Last year New York state legislators repealed their statute of limitations for rape. Washington state needs to do the same.

If you are a current resident of Washington state please call your legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 during their business hours to let your representatives know that you want the statute of limitations changed in the next legislative session. Or if aren't comfortable leaving a phone message, please go to the Member E-mail List page and send an email to your representatives.

If you have friends or relatives in Washington state ask them to call or write. If the legislators get flooded with individual citizens in their districts demanding a change then they will have a harder time simply ignoring this problem or assuming that few people in the state really want the statute of limitations for rape eliminated.

If you don't live in Washington state, look up the statute of limitations in your state and contact your representatives if you don't like what you find.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:44 AM   2 comments links to this post


At June 27, 2007 2:13 AM, Blogger Holly said...

No limits on rape/sexual violence when it comes to reporting, that is what the law should be. I think it is horrible to know states have a statute of limitations on sexual violence. Take care Holly
To all the survivors of sexual violence report, and continue to report. Even if the statute prevents it we all can hopefully work towards changing it.

At January 14, 2008 5:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the statute of limitations is horrible. I found out just recently that I was raped
30 years ago. I did not remember until the man contacted me on to say he was sorry.
Now the memories are coming back. He must have been 18 or so and I think I was 16.

Now what do I do? I want him to tell me the rest. I want to know all the circumstances because my mind found it necessary to block it out.

I'm not saying I would have tried to charge him with rape this many years later. But I'd sure like the option.

I really do believe it affected my life without knowing it. I have been in counseling since 2004. My counselor knew there was something more. I know what it was now.



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