Challenging Indiana's Rape Law - Part 3: "Jenny's Law" and Michiana victims

By Megan Hickey
July 03, 2015

[with video]

Last year, a 39-year-old Indiana man confessed to raping an Indianapolis nursing student back in 2005. But nine years after the incident, the victim, Jenny Wendt Ewing, couldn’t press charges thanks to Indiana's 5-year statute of limitations.

“I feel he was asking for help,” Ewing told NewsCenter16. “I'm not angry with him. I'm angry with the system.”

When lawmakers heard Ewing's story, they pushed to pass legislation this spring that would close that loophole.

The changes in that amendment, now known as “Jenny’s Law,” goes into effect this month.

“Her story made it clear that there are different things that are going on that may increase the need for more time in order to prosecute cases,” explained Aimee Herring, Lead Deputy Prosecutor, Special Victims Unit of the St. Joseph Co. Prosecutors Office.

Rape charges in Indiana are sorted into 6 different levels.

Today, Ewing’s rape would have been classified as a level 3 felony. For level 3 felony rapes committed from this point on, a confession or new evidence now gives prosecutors more time to mount a case.

“The clock essentially starts ticking and we have 5 years from that date in which to charge the offense,” Herring explained. “Whereas before, the old statute of limitations might have actually precluded us from filing that case.”

The Commander of St. Joseph County's Special Victims Unit says the new law helps victims dictate the pace of prosecution.

“It certainly opens the door to us to be able to help the victim years down the road,” said Brian Young, Commander of the St. Joseph Co. Special Victims Unit. “Whereas we were somewhat handcuffed before, we were bound by that statute of limitations.”

Both Young and Herring admit that a confession like the one in Ewing's case is rare.

“It’s not often that someone comes into confess years after an offense but it does happen in certain situations or circumstances,” Herring said. “DNA actually being found years after an offense is something that happens. I wouldn't say frequently, but it does happen and that's why sexual assault examination kits are so important.”

When it comes to those DNA kits, a forensic examiner performs an evaluation and any evidence is collected and stored.

“Ideally, they shouldn't shower. They shouldn't bathe. They shouldn't wash the clothes that they had on at the time of the occurrence,” Young said.

The kits are then tested at a facility in Lowell, Ind. and sent back to their collection agency for storage.

“We’re not only concerned with obtaining forensic evidence relating to the crime that occurred,” Young said. “We're also concerned with the victims health and well-being overall. We're looking for bruising other signs of injury. We're looking for some mental stability and we're trying to help them through that difficult emotional period.”

And if the victim isn't ready to proceed with charges, then he or she can hold on to the kit until they are.

While leaders of the Special Victims Unit agree that the new law is a step in the right direction, they would also be in support of a move to no statute.

“It would be absolutely something that would be beneficial,” Herring said. “But it's still something that is going to be a difficult case to proceed just because of the nature of the case.”

Young said one of the hardest parts of his job is telling victims of decades-old incidents that their time has run out.

“If we get enough information to be able to prosecute someone, regardless of the time frame, I think that’s a good thing.” Young said. “So yeah, I'm all for that.”

No matter the legal outcome, the Special Victim's Unit provides many resources to victims of sexual abuse.

SOS provides a 24-hour crisis hotline, medical and legal advocacy, counseling, risk reduction and community outreach programs.

SOS Hotline: 574-289-HELP
YWCA Women’s Shelter: 574-232-9558
St. Joseph Co. Prosecutor’s Office: 574-235-9544
Family Justice Center: 574-234-6900
Special Victim’s Unit: 574-235-7818
Dept. of Child Service: 800-800-5556, 574-232-3042



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