Indiana and Oregon have two of the shortest statutes of limitation for rape prosecution in the nation. Currently, prosecutors in Indiana have only five years to bring criminal charges against suspected rapists, and prosecutors in Oregon have a mere six years. To provide perspective, at least twenty other states have chosen to completely eliminate the statute of limitations in criminal rape cases.
Sexual assault has a devastating impact on survivors, as well as family and friends of the society. The public has a strong interest in affording that individual victim justice, and, moreover, a strong interest in holding perpetrators accountable for crimes. This not only protects survivors, but society, as a whole. Extended statutes of limitation are a critical tool to help protect these interests. The precise need for reform is perhaps best illustrated by examples.
For instance, because of the five year statute of limitations, Indiana prosecutors were unable to bring charges against a man who walked into a sheriff’s office in last year and confessed to raping a woman in 2005. As reported by Ian K. Kullgren in the Oregonian, despite the fact that the man gave a full confession to the violent criminal sexual act, the man walked free that very day.
Now, however, two survivors are working to change all that.
Jenny Wendt Ewing, the victim of the 2005 Indiana rape described above, and Brenda Tracy – a survivor who recently came forward about the brutal gang-rape she suffered more than a decade ago, whose statute of limitations also expired and the perpetrators walked away free – are advocating legislative reform to expand the statute of limitations in Oregon and Indiana.
In Indiana, “Jenny’s Law” (named for Jenny Wendt Ewing) would extend the statute of limitations in rape cases where new evidence reveals the identity of a suspect; the law would provide a new five-year window for prosecution where new evidence emerges in the form of a confession, DNA evidence, or a recording sufficient to support a prosecution. The Indiana Senate passed the bill 49-1 in January, and on March 24, 2015, the Indiana House Committee voted unanimously in favor and sent the bill to the full House for a vote.
A second proposal in Indiana, which has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, would eliminate the statute of limitations altogether and bring that number to twenty-one. While Wendt Ewing would like to see the statute of limitations eliminated in Indiana, she’s happy to see legal progress in the right direction. The Oregonian article on the Indiana bill quoted Jenny Wendt Ewing: “As long as it starts Indiana on a forward progress of change, that makes me happy,” Wendt Ewing said. “If we can get a whole team of women, men or whoever starting to do this all over the country in all these states, that’s awesome.”
Likewise, in Oregon, Ms. Elwing and Ms. Tracy have both been key advocates in support of Senate Bill 8 and House Bill 2317, which would extend the statute of limitations in Oregon. The bills will be heard before the legislative committee on April 1, 2015.
These are very exciting proposals, and we are proud to bear witness to Ms. Tracy’s and Ms. Elwing’s outreach on behalf of other victims and support their continued advocacy to fight for legal reform to bring more perpetrators to justice.
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