June 19, 2019

Assembly Passes Legislation to Enable Sexual Assault Survivors to Seek Justice

Speaker Carl Heastie, Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas today announced the passage of legislation to extend the statute of limitations for rape in the second and third degrees so that victims can seek justice from their attackers (A.8412, Simotas).

"This legislation will help ensure that survivors of sexual assault can access the justice system and hold their abusers accountable in their own time," said Speaker Heastie. "It is time that we take critical steps to change the culture that too often silences victims of sexual assault and keeps them from having their day in court."

"Narrow statutes of limitations can make the legal system inaccessible for victims and often cause further trauma," said Assemblymember Lentol. "This legislation will allow victims time to process their trauma without losing the opportunity to take legal action against their abusers."

"Sexual assaults are uniquely difficult to prosecute and leave lasting physical, psychological and emotional impacts on survivors. Despicably, these crimes are often perpetrated against those who are least able to speak up for themselves. No one, and especially not our most vulnerable, should be denied justice because the law provides an inadequate window of time to come forward," said Assemblymember Simotas. "This legislation expands the time to prosecute rapes involving groups that face significant barriers to reporting, including people with serious intellectual disabilities, people detained in correctional facilities or committed to hospitals, and people who were drugged without their knowledge. Unfortunately, we know all too well that the criminal justice system can fail survivors even when they report to law enforcement within the statute of limitations, which is why the bill also extends the time to file civil claims to recover damages resulting from sexual assault. Together, these changes will ensure that our laws recognize the complex realities of sexual violence and offer survivors the time they need to process their trauma and choose to pursue justice."

Currently, prosecution for rape in the second or third degree must start within five years of the offense, with limited exceptions. This legislation would extend this statute of limitation to 20 years for rape in the second degree and 10 years for rape in the third degree. Additionally, this bill would increase the time period for a victim to bring a civil suit for such conduct to 20 years. These provisions will allow victims time to recover from their trauma without losing the ability to pursue legal recourse.

In 2017, many victims bravely came forward to speak publicly about their experiences of sexual assault, sparking national attention to this problem. This reignited the #MeToo movement and shined a spotlight on the limited ability of these victims to seek the prosecution of their abusers. This legislation would significantly lengthen the current statutes of limitation to enable victims to speak out and pursue criminal or civil charges in their own time.