I grew up never questioning the statute of limitations on rape cases. It was just a fact. I was told sometimes people falsely accused other people of sexual assault (though no one ever told me that only 5.9% of reported assaults were provably false--or that an estimated 67% of assaults go unreported, so the number of fakes by comparison is miniscule*).
The statute of limitations is supposed to rule out those fake allegations: because why would you report a crime twenty years after it happened?
Then I experienced my own assault and understood.
I don't know if there's a single other crime that leaves such shame, fear, and stigma behind. When someone gets robbed, nobody says, "You weren't protecting your house well enough," or "I'm not going to get you presents anymore." But when someone is assaulted, people instantly ask if and how it could be true. They wonder if you're partially to blame. If you're a woman, you're no longer valuable because you've lost your virginity, and if you're a man, you've lost your masculinity and any claim to be a "real" man.
No other crime makes you feel so entirely powerless, unable to keep yourself safe but also unable to say what others do with your body. You have no control over the parts of you most vulnerable. Most personal. Every bit of your agency is taken away from you.
The helplessness and de-empowerment of rape, sexual assault, and sex-trafficking are what keep survivors from speaking up. It's what allows our abusers to keep coming back and using us. It's what keeps us thinking we are worth nothing, we are broken, and giving sex is all we'll ever be good for.
In the weeks and months after an assault, most of us are trying to forget it happened. We're hoping nobody will see it on our faces.
Asking a survivor to not only remember every vivid detail day after day, but to do so in front of others who will remember and report it in the news so all your friends and family can remember and never forget--that feels impossible. Terrifying. All your power taken away all over again. You lose control over the information about you, stripped naked for the world to see.
Compound that with the fact that 80% of survivors (and 93% of child survivors) were raped by someone they know: it may not be safe to speak up, or they fear getting someone they respect in trouble. Backlash from family and friends could lose that survivor their entire support network, leaving them alone when they need people most. (If you doubt that fact, you should research how even many churches, who claim to look after the vulnerable, fall to victim-blaming whenever someone dares to rock the boat and speak up about a congregation member sexually assaulting them.)
Jill Filipovic wrote yesterday on the few reasons thrown out as to why we have a statute of limitations--and then dispelled them. (I highly recommend reading her brief article before you go do anything else.)
The fact is that trauma, stigma, and cultural disbelief are stacked up against survivors. Nobody wants to admit they're a victim.
If you overcome fear and PTSD symptoms and get yourself in a safe space after the time limit on your rape expires, you have no recourse to take. The accused can only be vilified in the court of public, which, frankly, is worse for everyone since survivors are doubted and shamed too.
Tell me again why 34 states have a statute of limitations?
Word count: 595.
* There are an estimated 2 false allegations for every 10,000 rapes.
Image: Shame by Gabriel.