Oregon lawmakers will consider a bill Wednesday that would double the state’s general statute of limitations on rape from 6 years to 12 years.
But some rape survivors and their advocates say that’s not enough time to bring many sexual attackers to justice. They are pushing for the revival of an earlier version of the bill that would extend the statute of limitations to 20 years.
“Let’s not be a state where women, who after finally finding the will and strength to ask for their justice and demand it, let’s not be a state where they are told they are too late for that,” said Bryn Garrett, a Portland woman whose testimony contributed to a criminal conviction for sex abuse against a pastor earlier this year. Garrett was unable to pursue charges in her own case because prosecutors did not file charges before the statute of limitations had expired.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on the bill, HB2317, Wednesday at 8:30 am.
It addresses rape cases that are not based on DNA identification. Those cases are generally exempt from Oregon’s statute of limitations. Oregon also has a longer statute of limitations for child victims of sexual assault. They have until the age of 30 or 12 years, whichever comes first.
About half the states in the U.S. have no statute of limitations on rape; that allow victims and prosecutors to file charges at any time.
The statute of limitations on rape in the other states ranges from five years in Connecticut to 25 years in Ohio. Oregon’s current statute of limitations on rape is among the shortest, at six years.
Groups including the Oregon District Attorneys Association and the National Crime Victim’s law Institute have written to the Legislature in support of the longer 20 year statute of limitations.
“We can’t settle for 12. We need to get back to 20. We owe it to communities, we owe it to survivors,” said Meg Garvin, with the National Crime Victims Justice Institute. She said delays in reporting rape are predictable, given the effects of trauma on survivors and the social barriers people face reporting and prosecuting rape.
The Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association opposes extending the statute of limitations for rape. “We think good policy promotes prompt reporting,” said Gail Meyer, the group’s lobbyist.
Meyer said the group is concerned that important evidence that can be used to establish innocence in a rape case will not last for 20 years.
“Those are cases that are resolved by tangible objects that have a short shelf life. It’s often a text message, selfie, pictures, or handwritten notes. Those things go away in time,” she said.
Senate Judiciary Commitee Chairman Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said he recommended to House leadership that the bill be revised to impose a 12-year statute of limitations instead of 20 years before passing to the Senate.
“They deferred to me as a prosecutor of over 25 years, and someone who has had a family member who was murdered,” Prozanski said, referring to his sister who was killed in Texas.
Prozanski said a working group will be convened after the legislative session adjourns to consider a longer statute of limitations for rape. He says the group will include representatives on all sides of the issue, including victims, district attorneys, defense attorneys, and legislators.
“Hopefully we’ll have an answer by the end of the year,” he said. “This is a process that many committees use when they need to have something looked into in a greater magnitude than just having a group of advocates claiming this is what we need as a state. We need to make certain there is balance in that discussion.”