It’s time for (well overdue) change.
Over this past week California passed landmark legislation that removed the statute of limitations for those reporting rape. This lets prosecutors treat rape crimes the same way they do murders: any time the case is reported, no matter how long it’s been since the original offense, the rapist can be brought to court and convicted.
Earlier this year I was making the case for this exact thing to a professor of mine. Why weren’t we doing this with rape cases in the first place? Is it like theft, where eventually the property value has become obsolete, or we’re expected to just write it off as “these things just happen?” If so, what does that say about the way we treat women’s bodies?
I’ve always hated that argument. I hear it from men all the time; “Well that kind of stuff just happens. I mean, I was jumped walking back to my car once and they took my wallet.” Yeah, having your wallet stolen is absolutely totally for sure the same thing as being raped. Having to go through the hassle of waiting in line at the DMV for a new license and replacing all your credit cards is exactly as traumatizing as someone holding you down and forcing themselves on you while threatening to murder you. Thanks for the comparison, guys.
Bodies are not property. They are not commodities to be bought and sold and lost and stolen. My body wasn’t stolen from me, it was violated. When someone is raped, their safety is taken from them; their belief that they have the ability – the right – to do something as simple as walk to their car after grocery shopping, is gone forever. That’s not something that the DMV can reissue.
Having rape laws that expire means the state believes the trauma of rape expires. It doesn’t. The loved ones of murder victims will tell you that though they get to a place where the pain ebbs, while they learn how to live around the pain of that loss, it’s always there. Rape and sexual assault is the same. You learn to cope with your trauma, and maybe that means avoiding the block where you were cornered or carrying mace against state laws or holding your chin up high and defiantly going about your life as a giant middle finger to your rapist, but whatever the case, the trauma is always there. Something the state of California is finally recognizing.
Interestingly enough, the inspiration for putting fourth the legislation last year was Bill Cosby. Several otherwise unconnected women came forward to accuse him of very similar acts of rape, and unfortunately the statute of limitations had already expired on many of them at the time of the reporting. Rape is difficult to prosecute as it is, but having a case you can prosecute and being unable to isn’t just frustrating – it’s unjust.
It also impacts the cases you can bring to court. Many judges rule you can’t even use these previous incidents to prove a pattern. You can’t even bring the victims in and provide them with the cathartic satisfaction of telling a court of law what was done to them so they can at least be brought to justice by way of a more recent victim bringing their case forward.
Bottom line: if you committed a rape at any point of your life, you should be held accountable whenever evidence comes to light that can prove it. I don’t care if you’re a better person now, I don’t care if you found religion and have a family. For decades your rape victim has had to live an amputated life because of a crime you decided to commit. Rape should absolutely be held to the same statute standards as murder, and every state should provide their rape victims with the same path to justice.
Comment: Do you agree we need to stop putting restrictions on how rapists can be prosecuted?