For a few weeks this year, some survivors of child rape who didn't pursue charges against their assailant had hope for a bill that would have given them a second chance. It had strong support in the Senate and just needed to move to the floor for a vote by Friday.
But a bill to eliminate the state's statute of limitations on child rape and molestation died in the Senate after it failed to make the cutoff deadline. Senator Jamie Pedersen, chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, told PubliCola lawmakers ran out of time.
Representatives Dan Griffey, an Allyn Republican who sponsored the bill, and Michelle Caldier, a Port Orchard Republican, in a joint statement Saturday said the Legislature "let sexual assault survivors down this year."
"In Olympia, we talk a big game about standing up for the most vulnerable among us," they said. "Yet when it comes to something as important as helping sexual assault victims, we always seem to fall short."
Griffey proposed sweeping legislation, House Bill 1155, that would have originally eliminated the statute of limitations for all serious felony sex offenses, including rape of any kind. Currently, the state has no statute of limitations for only one crime (homicide).
Instead, Pedersen crafted a substitute bill that limited removing the statute to just first-degree child rape and child molestation.
Pedersen said it was clear to him that the requirement to pursue charges within three years for victims who didn't report to law enforcement within the first year "is not long enough for some victims to be able to process what happened to them."
"It's likely the case that it would make sense to extend that, but to go from three years to eternity is a really big jump," Pedersen said.
But he said the title of the bill made it challenging for the legislation to extend statutes rather than eliminate them altogether. It also didn't have a corresponding Senate bill that would've allowed Pedersen's committee to hear it within the first half of the session. He said he doesn't know whether he would support eliminating the statute for any adult crimes.
Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, told PubliCola she thought the bill would get more traction.
But the short session, the 24-24 split in the Senate on Friday, and the pressure for legislators to respond to their votes on the public records bill all presented challenges this year, Stone said.
"Everything we heard is that this did not fail on its merit," Stone told PubliCola. "It failed on the fact that they simply didn't manage their time well enough."
It's not the first time lawmakers have criticized the statute to pursue charges for child sex offenses, which is complex and depends on the age of the victim at the time of the crime. In 2013, the Legislature extended the deadline to allow survivors to file criminal charges until the age of 30.
That statute, which first allowed child victims of sexual abuse three years or up to 10 years to pursue charges against their assailant, played a role in a lawsuit first brought against former Seattle mayor Ed Murray in 2008, The Stranger reported.
Stone said next year, legislators and advocates will have another chance to craft a bill that could be more nuanced. She said she believes the legislation should address adult offenses like rape or indecent liberties, which is a charge often used in place of rape when an accuser has an intellectual disability.
“To this day, I am crushed to know that I have ruined my chance at legal action by not arriving at this state sooner,” said Lisa Flotlin, who told the Senate committee in a public hearing she had been sexually abused by her high school Spanish teacher. “I often find myself wondering, did he celebrate the passing of this date? Did he walk a little lighter?”