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WA Lege Day 17: Extending the time to prosecute child rape

OLYMPIA – Washington may extend the statute of limitations on cases of child rape, making it possible to convict some predators after their victims grow up.

But victims of sexual abuse and their families told a Senate panel that doesn’t go far enough. There should be no statute of limitations on child sexual assault, just as there is no such limit on murder and some other homicide crimes.

A woman who told the Senate Law and Justice Committee she was sexually abused starting around age 12 said many young victims need time to process what has happened to them. They may not be able to do that until they are adults.

 “Everybody deserves a chance to be heard,” the woman who identified herself as Shelly said. . .

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Current state law says a case of first- or second-degree rape involving a victim 14 or older can be prosecuted for 10 years, but only if it is reported within a year after it occurs; if the victim is less than 14, the crime can be prosecuted until the victim reaches 28, if it is reported in that first year. Rape cases involving victims under 14 who report the assault within three years can be prosecuted for seven years, or until the victim turns 21, if that’s longer.

Senate Bill 5100 would allow rape cases involving victims under 18 to be prosecuted until the victim turns 30, remove the one-year reporting requirement and expand the statute of limitations for other sex crimes involving minors like child molestation and indecent liberties.

Gail Harsh, a former Spokane resident who now lives in Sammamish, said her daughter was abused by a relative at a young age, and later by an assistant teacher. When she developed a series of health problems, she underwent therapy at 15 that revealed the abuse, police investigated but refused to prosecute because the statute of limitations had passed. She never recovered from her health problems and died three days after the case was closed.

“Child rape is soul murder and there should be no statute of limitations,” Harsh said.

The longer time frame will cause a sexual predator to “look over his shoulder for a number of years,” former Spokane state Rep. John Ahern said.

During his time in the Legislature, Ahern tried repeatedly to raise the statute of limitations for child rape. His bills passed in the House but hit roadblocks in the Senate and never made it out of committee. SB 5100, has bipartisan cosponsors as well as support on the Law and Justice Committee.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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