Editorial: Limit statutes, not victims

Statute editorialTexas has made a good start in terms of the statutes of limitations as it relates to sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault and continuous sexual abuse of a young child. In Texas, these crimes are treated the same as murder.

Texas has a total of eight crimes that have no statutes of limitations: murder and manslaughter, sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault of a child, sexual assault if DNA is collected, continuous sexual abuse of a young child, indecency with a child, leaving the scene of an accident that results in the death of a person, trafficking of persons, and continuous trafficking of persons.

These are crimes we recognize as heinous, and offenders do not deserve to avoid prosecution for their crimes due to some arbitrary legal time limit.

The elimination of the criminal statutes of limitations for sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault of a child, continuous sexual abuse of a young child, and indecency with a child is a relatively recent change made in 2007.

Prior to that, it was 10 years from the date of the occurrence (if the victim was under 18, it was 10 years from his or her 18th birthday).

On the other hand, for civil cases, victims have five years from the date of the offense to bring a civil suit against their offender. If the victim is under the age of 18, the five-year period doesn’t begin until their 18th birthday.

Outside of Texas, there are numerous states where the statutes of limitations are so prohibitive that victims are unable to see justice served because they come forward after the statutes of limitations have expired.

Victims of sexual abuse should be legally permitted to pursue justice and legal recourse on their own recovery time schedule and not an arbitrary limit provided by law.

It can be decades before a victim is able to come forward and reveal the sexual abuse that the suffered as a child or rape they suffered decades earlier.

Any civil and criminal statutes of limitations related to sexual abuse and sexual assault only serve to re-victimize the victim and cause needless emotional and psychological harm to the victims.

These statutes of limitations protect the offenders of sexual abuse and assault from prosecution and being held accountable for their crimes.

There are arguments against this position.

We recognize that it can be difficult to find reliable evidence. However, issues of evidence should be left to the judicial system to address and not used to prevent victims from seeking justice.

An added wrinkle is a Supreme Court ruling that prosecution of a crime under a law extending the criminal statute of limitations after the existing limitations period has expired is unconstitutional. As a result, if the statutes of limitations had run out for a victim to seek justice and that statute of limitation is later extended or eliminated, a victim can’t go back and seek justice.

We find this court ruling to be particularly distressing because it serves to re-victimize the victims and prevents them from seeking justice that they deserve. Thus, any change to the criminal statutes of limitations will only apply to recent and future crimes.

We believe that there are several complementary solutions that need to be enacted at the state and federal levels.

We believe that in Texas, all sexual crimes regardless of gender and age should have no statutes of limitations. This sends a clear message to victims that Texas supports those who are victims of these heinous crimes. It also sends a clear message to the offenders: If you commit a sexual abuse or sexual assault crime in Texas, you will be held accountable no matter how much time passes.

We also believe that the legislature should open a temporary window in which victims can bring civil lawsuits against their offender, even if the civil statute of limitations has already expired.

We call on all states to enact legislation that eliminates the statutes of limitations for sexual abuse and sexual assault crimes, as well as open temporary windows under which victims can bring civil lawsuits for past crimes.

Finally, we call on Congress to adopt a federal “no statutes of limitations clause” for sexual abuse and sexual assault.

Due to the Supreme Court ruling, we believe that Congress needs to evaluate the necessity of a constitutional amendment to allow the retroactive application of the statutes of limitations to crimes where the statutes of limitations has run out.
Our legislatures need to rethink extension or elimination of the statutes of limitations for these crimes.