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Abolish time limit on sex crime prosecutions.

Byline: Lori Allen For The Register-Guard

The Oregon House and Senate have unanimously passed a bill extending the statute of limitations on sexual assault - yet Gov. Kate Brown should veto the legislation, and it should be immediately rewritten. Instead of getting it right the first time, legislators have proposed a stopgap solution that involves convening a committee to waste time and resources on an issue that should be resolved right now.

The bill lengthens Oregon's statute of limitations for sexual assaults by six years. Even with the increase, this proposal arbitrarily limits prosecution for sexual assault. Oregon has one of the narrowest timelines for bringing charges in cases of rape and other sexual assaults. Twenty-eight states have no statue of limitations for rape charges.

Currently, the statute of limitations for sexual assault - a category that includes rape, incest and using a child for porno graphy - limits prosecution to within six years after the commission of the crime. Somewhat longer limits apply if the victim was under 18 years of age.

The law is confusing, and the timelines are arbitrary. Having clear guidelines and laws related to reporting and prosecuting sexual assaults is imperative for the protection of the 1 in 4 females and 1 in 8 males who will be sexually abused by age 18.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, has said he's puzzled about how to determine the correct statute of limitations, saying, "It turns out, there isn't any way to decide in any systematic way how you balance the crime with the statute of limitations." Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, stated that part of the reason for creating a stopgap bill was to examine criminal justice statistics to determine a research-based limit for prosecuting sexual assaults.

I have worked with many survivors of sexual abuse; very few have reported the crime. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only 36 percent of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated against women and girls in the United States between 1992 and 2000 were reported to the police. Each case is complex, and each person requires differing levels of protection, consequences and care.

Some survivors are adults who go to the hospital within 24 hours because they have been educated about sexual assault. Others don't even know about rape kits. Some are 3 years old. Many are in families that fear the perpetrator and cope by rationalizing that it was probably just a one-time thing - and why ruin someone's life over a mistake? Others don't feel mentally and emotionally prepared to relive the experience by reporting it or going to trial. Some aren't even sure that it wasn't their fault when, at age 5, their step-brother touched their privates.

I have also worked with sex offenders. Some will be highly dangerous throughout their lifetime. Others are 18-year-old boys who made poor decisions after drinking too much, but know it was wrong and feel terribly about it. All perpetrators need consequences that fit the crime and their psychological profile. Many have been sexually abused themselves. Ideally, all should be assessed so that their behavior and mental health issues can be addressed and others can be protected.

Of course false accusations occur, yet this is extremely rare. Only 2 percent to 8 percent of all sexual assault accusations reported to law enforcement turn out to be false. In his paper "Understanding the Predatory Nature of Sexual Violence," Dr. David Lasiks states that "Most rapists who are prosecuted are convicted on a single count of rape. However, when researchers have granted immunity to offenders in exchange for a truthful accounting of their sex offending history, the reality of rape emerges. In one study, the average number of victims for each rapist was seven, and in another study it was 11."

Myths surround this issue - the myth that perpetrators are people we don't know, the myth that they most likely just made one bad decision, or the myth that many people will take advantage of extended statues of limitations by falsely accusing someone of rape. We must create laws that are not based on myth, but reality. Leave it to the court system to determine whether there is cause for prosecution based on evidence, not based on how much time has passed.

More than any other crime, sexual assault affects women and children - and it's a crime that is complicated by issues of power dynamics, shame and secrecy. Given what we know about how many perpetrators never get prosecuted and how many survivors never get justice, we should be focusing on finding a way to help survivors feel safe enough to report rather than closing doors on them.

We don't need our Legislature to create a committee to explore this further. We need Gov. Brown and our elected officials to act now to abolish the statute of limitations for sexual assault.

Lori Allen of Eugene is a licensed psychologist.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Jun 10, 2015
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