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California has passed legislation lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on felony sex offenses, including rape and child molestation. According to Reuters, the bill was inspired by the numerous allegations against Bill Cosby for rape and sexual assault. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2017 for crimes that occur next year or later, or crimes for which the previous statute of limitations would not have been reached by 2017.
The previous law made allowances if new DNA evidence emerged, and prosecution of sex offenses against minors made before the victim’s 40th birthday. State Sen. Connie Leyva told the L.A. Times the bill "shows victims and survivors that California stands behind them, that we see rape as a serious crime, that victims can come forward, and that justice now has no time limit.”Currently, Bill Cosby is awaiting trial in Pennsylvania for a 12-year-old sexual assault case, in which he is accused of drugging and raping a woman in his Philadelphia home in 2004. The charges were filed less than three weeks before Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations would have expired. He also faces a civil suit in California for allegedly drugging and raping a woman at the Playboy Mansion in 1974.
Thirty-four states have a statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault, with some as low as three years. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Jill Filipovic says that statutes like this further punish victims: “Most sexual assault survivors don’t report the crime right away, especially if the perpetrator is someone they know—which applies in about four-fifths of cases,” she writes.
Aside from knowing the perpetrator, risks of reporting include not being believed by police and being arrested for making a “false accusation.” Then there is the backlog of rape kits in America and the fact that only 3 percent of rapists are ever punished for the crime—all of which all add up to a very “why bother?” feeling.
AP reported that critics worry "the California bill could lead to false convictions as memories fade among victims and witnesses." However, considering about 2 percent of rape accusations are false, the benefits of a bill like this far outweigh the risks.