In the U.S., the Statute of Limitations for sex crimes differs according to individual state law.
This means that if a victim chooses to pursue legal action after an arbitrarily chosen time frame, their case will be rejected under federal and state law. Due to the prevailing notion that victims “tend to forget” and “aggressively dramatize” their testimonies over time–as reinforced by rape culture –justice may be denied under the guise of regulatory and legal protocols.
A morbid spin on “time heals all wounds,” if you ask me.
Now the debate on whether the Statute of Limitations should even exist in the first place is incredibly convoluted. The associated nuances are difficult to navigate since they depend on the crime, the obsolescence of evidence, and the laws put in place at the time of the offence. If desired, victims may choose to undergo extremely complicated (and expensive) procedures that may potentially bypass the Statute, but such methods are not regularly carried out.
But if we truly analyze the complexity and severity of sex crime, regardless of the law, there is one indisputable fact that remains true:
Sexual assault has no expiration date.
The Statute of Limitations may beg to differ, but both psychologically and emotionally, assault tends to persist indefinitely throughout a victim’s lifetime. That is not to say that victims of sexual assault are not capable of healing and moving forward. Instead, it is to say that the crime and injustice perpetrated against them never become outdated. An instance that occurred 50 years ago is just as morally reprehensible as one that occurred yesterday.
The Bill Cosby case is a really unfortunate example of this. A vast majority of his crimes were carried out in the 70s and 80s, and due to the Statute of Limitations, he could not be charged. This is extremely unsettling.
The mainstream discussion that arose on sexual violence after the Bill Cosby case inspired California to eliminate their own Statue of Limitations for sex crimes, which previously was 10 years.
“[Governor Brown’s] signature of SB 813 tells every rape and sexual assault victim in California that they matter and that, regardless of when they are ready to come forward, they will always have an opportunity to seek justice in a court of law,” State Senator Leyva said in a statement. “Rapists should never be able to evade legal consequences simply because an arbitrary time limit has expired.”
The grim reality of assigning a time frame to sex crime is that it implies that the crime and the perpetrator should not be held at consistent and constant accountability standards. This belief is translated into everyday microaggressions such as “But it was so long ago! Aren’t you over it yet?”
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that many victims still live in the wake of their sexual assault. Some never find a peace within themselves even after decades of searching for it. The haunting ordeal and suffering often manifest into excruciatingly debilitating aftereffects, such as trauma, panic attacks, and depressive episodes. The aftermath of sexual assault lives on long after the offence itself, and it is pivotal to remember this when interacting with victims of sexual assault.
Whether someone chooses to come forward with their experience immediately after the assault or 10 years down the road, it is not anyone’s place to judge, trivialize, or discredit their story.
Sexual assault is wrong, reprimandable, and non-negotiable every time and all the time–period.
It’s not as easy as “You should’ve reported it as soon as it happened.” There are far too many factors that influence a person’s willingness to report their assaults, whether it be cultural expectations, the threat of homicidal perpetrators, personal matters, or the fear of rejection. The sexual assault was condemnable then, and it will be condemnable now.
It’s also worth mentioning that the legal system isn’t exactly renowned for its solidarity and justice for victims of sexual abuse, so feeling discouraged, scared, or embarrassed to come forward is understandable and okay. This does not and should not minimize the wrong that was done to the victim and should only be met with support and love from society at large.
Instead of asking victims why they are choosing to report so long after the incident or doubting the possibility of their memory serving them right, perhaps we should be acknowledging the fact that the crime of sexual assault cannot expire after it is committed–and neither should justice.