Sexual abuse laws poised for massive changes in Washington state

KUOW Radio

April 11, 2019

By Sydney Brownstone and Paige Browning

There will be no statute of limitations for people who survived sexual abuse when they were under 16.

The same bill extends the statute of limitations for adult survivors to 10 or 20 years, depending on the severity of the crime. It also makes a significant change to how rape in the third degree is prosecuted — removing a small but crucial piece of language that advocates say ignored trauma research and prevented cases from being tried in court.

Speaking after the passage of the original Senate bill in February, Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, said the bill was the organization’s biggest win in at least five years.

“I think we all realize attitudes are changing — the culture is changing on this issue.” Stone said. “Everybody knows so many more people who’ve been impacted by sexual assault. And there was a collective recognition that it’s time to make this change.”

Andrea Piper-Wentland of Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs said this means that survivors will have more time to process what happened to them.

She said the law would allow survivors “to get out of a situation that they were in, that was prohibitive for them to report.”

“There’s a myriad of reasons survivors have for delayed reporting,” she said.

Before the bill is signed into law, Washington state’s statute of limitations dictates that childhood survivors of sexual abuse have until their 30th birthdays to pursue a case. Adult survivors of rape must report their rapes to police within a year, after which they have 10 years to prosecute their cases. If adult survivors of rape don’t report the crime to police, they have just a three-year window to bring a case forward.

As of last summer, 15 states had removed statutes of limitations for child sex crimes.

Mary Dispenza of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said she was excited for a change she and fellow survivors had been fighting for since the 1990s.

That said, the bill, once signed into law is not retroactive; it doesn’t apply to cases in which the statute of limitations has already expired.

“Going forward, it will indeed and help survivors of childhood priest abuse,” Dispenza said. “But it won’t do much to allow the thousands in the past who have been harmed by sexual violence on the part of clergy to to have their day in court.”

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