TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas got something right Monday.
Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill into law Monday that eliminates the five-year statute of limitations on rape and aggravated sodomy. It also gives victims of violent sexual abuse 10 years after their 18th birthday to report those crimes.
Kansas is now one of around 20 states, including Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming, that have no statute of limitations for felony rape crimes. Other states are taking action as well; a bill was introduced in the Ohio legislature last month that would end the 20-year statute of limitations for rape.
With advances in DNA technology that make it possible to find a match years later, it seems only logical to drop the time limit on bringing a rape suspect to court. It can also take years for a victim to have the emotional strength to go through a trial and face her attacker.
“The majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. So guilt and self-blame are very high. Additionally, the stigma is still very strong,” Robert Geffner, a doctor and president of the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma at Alliant University, said in an article on takepart.com. “By the time my patients have come to terms with their abuse, not only have civil statute of limitations expired, but in many areas, even criminal statutes have expired.”
Cindy Hillebrand, 61, was raped 28 years ago in Topeka. The man convicted of raping her was later exonerated by DNA evidence, but that same evidence pointed to a convicted sex offender already in prison.
Because of the five-year statute of limitations, it was too late for him to face prosecution for the attack on Hillebrand. Instead, she worked with the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, which helped write the legislation, and spoke to legislators in support of the bill.
“It’s the only way I’ll get any justice on this,” Hillebrand told the Lawrence Journal-World.
The bill made quick progress through the Kansas legislature, for once uniting both Republicans and Democrats. House Bill 2252 was introduced Feb. 6, passed in the House March 1 by a vote of 123 to 0, and then passed in the Senate on March 14 with a vote of 40 to 0.
Ending the time limit to seek justice in a rape case seems only right. After all, there’s no statute of limitations on how long the memories of sexual assault can last.
Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.