Massive Change in Sexual Abuse Laws in Washington State
There will be no statute of limitations for people who survived sexual abuse when they were under the age of 16.
The same bill extends the statute of limitations for adult survivors to 10 or 20 years, depending on the seriousness of the crime. It also dramatically changes the way third-degree rape is prosecuted – removing a small but crucial piece of language that advocates say has ignored trauma research and prevented cases from going to court.
Speaking after the original Senate bill passed in February, Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, said the bill was the organization’s biggest victory in at least five years.
“I think we all realize that attitudes are changing – culture is changing on this issue.” Stone said. “Everyone knows so many more people who have been affected by sexual assault. And there was a collective recognition that it is time to make this change.”
Andrea Piper-Wentland of the Washington Coalition for Sexual Assault Programs said this means survivors will have more time to figure out what happened to them.
She said the law would allow survivors “to get out of a situation they found themselves in which it was prohibitive for them to report.”
“There are a myriad of reasons survivors have delayed reporting,” she said.
Lift the prescription
Before the bill is enacted, the Washington state statute of limitations states that child survivors of sexual abuse have until their 30th birthday to file a lawsuit. Adult rape survivors must report their rapes to the police within one year, after which they have 10 years to pursue their cases. If adult rape survivors do not report the crime to the police, they only have three years to file a complaint.
As of last summer, 15 states removed statute of limitations for child sex offenses.
Mary Dispenza of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said she was excited about a change she and her fellow survivors had been fighting for since the 1990s.
However, the bill, once signed, is not retroactive; it does not apply to cases where the limitation period has already expired.
“In the future, this will indeed help survivors of priest abuse in childhood,” Dispenza said. “But that won’t do much to allow the thousands of people who have been victims of sexual violence at the hands of the clergy in the past to spend their days in court.”
Dispenza said she hoped lawmakers in Washington might consider a further change to accommodate survivors of clergy abuse who show up as adults. In Washington state, survivors of childhood sexual abuse have three years after their 18th birthday, or after discovering the harms of their abuse, to file a civil action.
Since the Boston Globe’s investigation into clergy abuse in 2002, however, nine states have passed laws that open up short windows in which survivors with expired civil claims could sue their attackers, according to Child USA. Dispenza said she hoped lawmakers in Washington would do the same.
A crucial change around consent
The bill passed by the state Senate on Tuesday would also change the state’s definition of third degree rape. Washington’s third-degree rape language says that a victim must demonstrate a lack of consent “clearly expressed by the victim’s words or conduct.”
This standard, advocates say, fails to capture one of the body’s biological responses to trauma: the “frozen” impulse to stand still, say nothing, or stop. In the absence of third-party witnesses who see a clear lack of consent, prosecutors are often reluctant to press charges, lawyers say.
“A lot of times when we talk to prosecutors about these cases the answer we get as to why they can’t move forward on these charges is that the victim hasn’t expressed or said ‘no’ enough times or not. “failed to retaliate strong enough to meet this clear standard of conduct with words and actions to express non-consent,” said Riddhi Mukhopadhyay, legal director of the YWCA’s Sexual Violence Legal Services.
If the bill passed by the Legislative Assembly is passed, this “clearly expressed” wording of lack of consent would be removed. Instead, the law would state that a person is guilty of third degree rape “where the victim has not consented to sexual relations with the perpetrator” or “where there is a threat of substantial wrongful harm to the perpetrator. property rights of the victim “.
“It’s much more responsive and realistic to what sexual assault looks like for many survivors, where a lot of people are physically in a position where they can’t fight back, they can’t say anything out loud,” said Mukhopadhyay. “It’s not just because of the surrounding circumstances – it’s also based on the neurobiology of how we physically deal with trauma.”
If Governor Jay Inslee signs Senate Bill 5649, it would take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session.