In Washington state, a rape survivor has three years to pursue charges against their assailant without a police report. That could change soon.
In a 90-8 vote, state representatives on Thursday approved a bill that would allow perpetrators of serious felony sex offenses to face prosecution regardless of how much time has passed and moved the legislation along to the Senate.
House Bill 1155—sponsored by state representative Dan Griffey, an Allyn Republican—would eliminate the statute of limitations for rape offenses (currently at three years in most cases, 10 years if they filed a police report within the first year), child rape and molestation, and other serious sex crimes.
"The crimes that these monsters commit are so terrible that they should have to look over their shoulder as much as the survivors have to think about and relive their pain," Griffey told Seattle Met. "It's just tragic, what (the statute of limitations) looks like. ...It's just stupid."
But the substitute bill removed a few of the sex offenses that would be allowed prosecution at any time after the crime: indecent liberties, voyeurism, and communication with a minor for immoral purposes. Seattle representative Nicole Macri, who originally co-sponsored the bill, opposed it on the third reading.
Rape and sexual assault are by far the most underreported crimes in the country. Only 23 percent of those crimes were reported to law enforcement in 2016, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey. In Washington, of the more than 2,200 rapes reported that year, 476 led to arrests.
Supporters of Griffey's legislation point to that fact as a reason to remove any time limit on pursuing charges, as a message to encourage survivors to come forward.
Advocates also say the bill would simplify the complex statute to help survivors better navigate the legal system, and that there's a serial nature to the crime—a large percentage of sexual assault perpetrators have more than one victim; once one survivor comes forward, often more accusers whose statutes already expired would follow. In the case of a serial rapist in Bellingham that culminated in a trial last year, accusers who filed police reports in solidarity with more recent survivors couldn't pursue charges or testify in court.
But it faces an uncertain future in the Senate. Griffey said he believes it'll be an uphill battle after conversations with the chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. Opponents said they've wondered whether charging someone for a crime committed so long ago would be fair.
Seattle representative Noel Frame of the 36th District, who told Seattle Met she's a survivor of child sexual assault herself, was one of eight legislators who ultimately opposed the bill because it would also apply to juvenile perpetrators; youthful sex offenders with the right interventions have low recidivism rates, she said, and doesn't want those perpetrators charged much later, when they would be adults and it's too late to correct course.
"If there's been a crime, I want those charges done and those kids held accountable within that 10-year period so we're actually stopping that behavior, because we can," Frame said. "I take this very, very seriously. ... It's an emotional topic for all of us."
She will work with Griffey to introduce an amendment on the Senate side to address youth offenders. She also disputes the definitions of "child rape" in the state statutes—it excludes force, and could include intercourse between a 15- and 19-year-old—and said she wants to fix the definition before sweeping it into other laws.
The bill would also remove the statute altogether in cases of child rape, molestation, and other serious child sex abuse cases. The state extended the statute in 2013, allowing child victims to come forward until the age of 30. The House also unanimously approved a bill, sponsored by Seattle representative Javier Valdez of the 43rd District, that protects the privacy of children who testify in sex assault cases on Wednesday.
“As survivors and loved ones of survivors, we live with this every day. It doesn’t just go away because there’s an expiration date for the abuser’s crime,” said Dinah Griffey, the sponsor's wife, during a public hearing last year when the bill was first introduced. She is a survivor of child sexual abuse, she said. “Please be clear: If a sex crime is committed in our state, the criminal should never be safe from prosecution. Ever.”
Updated 2:05pm on February 9, 2018, to edit and include an interview with Frame.
Updated 5:20pm on February 9, 2018, to include an interview with Griffey.