In New York State, for many victims of rape, an invisible clock starts ticking from the moment they’re assaulted. Victims of second- and third-degree rape and criminal sexual contact — in which victims were physically or mentally incapable, or too young to give consent — have just five years to report the crimes to law enforcement if they want to press charges.
Gov. Cuomo wants to eliminate that arbitrary time-frame altogether. We agree.
Even though New York got rid of the statute of limitations for forcible rape charges more than a decade ago, the laws for second- and third-degree rapes haven’t been changed in almost two decades. They are out of step with what we now know about the sex crime, why it happens and why some victims take so long to come forward.
Some fear retaliation. Others fear no one will believe them. We know now that most rapes aren’t committed by random strangers; in 80% of cases, victims already know the perpetrator. There are powerful parallels here with the Child Victim’s Act, which lengthened the cruelly restrictive statute of limitations for seeking justice against molesters.
Civil liberties advocates worry reform will lead to false convictions; prosecutors and courts should take care of that by throwing out weak cases. Women’s rights groups argue there should be more focus on training law enforcement to better handle sexual assault cases, so victims feel comfortable coming forward sooner. We can’t argue with that.