Time does not heal all wounds.
Itdoesn't repair the crippling psychological injuries suffered bychildhood sex abuse victims, for example. And if it can't do that, itshouldn't protect their abusers from the anxiety of wondering ifthey'll be caught.
Those who perpetrate unconscionable evil uponfragile children shouldn't be allowed to play a waiting game that letsthem escape accountability by avoiding discovery for an arbitrarynumber of years.
Under current law, though, the statute oflimitations for sexual abuse of children is generally 10 years. It canvary according to a mixture of circumstances but if charges haven'tbeen brought before the victim turns 24, at the latest, they can't bebrought at all. Even though, in many cases, it's at that age or muchlater that the guilt, denial and emotional confusion dissipate enoughto let the victim face up to a long-repressed secret.
The futility of seeking justice at that point will change iflegislation introduced this week by Washington state Sen. Chris Marr ofSpokane becomes law. The measure, Senate Bill 5817, would remove thestatute of limitations that now applies to sex abuse crimes againstchildren.
In 2005, the American Psychological Associationreleased a report in which researchers from Johns Hopkins, SouthernMethodist and Cornell universities analyzed earlier studies of childsex abuse experiences. The authors concluded that 60-70 percent ofadults who had been sexually abused as children don't recall everrevealing what happened to them and only 10-18 percent recall thattheir cases were reported to authorities.
Those figures aren'tsurprising, given that most child sexual abuse victims know theirassailants and tend to see them as people with authority and power.Teachers, clergy, youth organization leaders, relatives includingparents and siblings, family friends. People, in other words, whosewords carry weight when they say "Don't tell" or "It's OK."
Compoundthat by the instances of children who do report, only to bedisbelieved. After the chain of trust-eroding experiences grows longenough, children are less likely than ever to blow the whistle, andmore likely to blame themselves.
There are plausible reasons fora statute of limitations. When the state steps forward with aconvincing but decades-old case, the suspect's constitutional right toan effective defense is hampered by foggy memories and missingevidence. In addition, there's what Gonzaga Law School professor BrooksHolland calls a "societal interest" in giving law enforcementauthorities an incentive to investigate crimes promptly.
Yet forcertain extreme offenses society has decided to remove any statute oflimitations. Those who commit murder, set deadly fires or flee thescene of a traffic fatality, for instance, cannot be saved by the bell.They have to worry the rest of their lives about getting caught. Andpunished.
It's reasonable to carve out exceptions to the statuteof limitations in egregious cases like those, all of which so farinvolve mortal acts.
Children who are sexually victimized bypredatory adults shouldn't be denied the same level of justice merelybecause they didn't die.