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Washington House considers lifting time limits on some rape crimes

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 23, 2019

The Legislative Building is viewed through a light morning fog, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, on opening day of the Washington Legislature. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
The Legislative Building is viewed through a light morning fog, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, on opening day of the Washington Legislature. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – Washington could lift the time limits for prosecuting serious sex crimes, particularly when the victims are children, and increase efforts to process the thousands of rape kits around the state that remain untested.

After emotional testimony from rape victims Tuesday, the House Public Safety Committee seemed poised to support a proposal that lifts the statute of limitations on all cases of felony child sexual assault or child sexual molestation. The House has passed such legislation in the past, but the Senate has not.

“This means a lot to a lot of people,” said Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, who is sponsoring that bill and another that would lift the statute of limitations on all felony sex crimes, regardless of the victim’s age.

Currently, most sex crimes must be prosecuted within 10 years. If the victim is a minor, the crime must be prosecuted before the victim turns 30.

Griffey explained his wife was sexually abused by her stepfather, and their daughter was raped and left for dead at age 20. Rape, he said, “is the most heinous crime, with the exception of murder.”

One in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, said Andrea Piper-Wentland of the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault programs. Some victims need time before they are able to talk about the crimes to police.

Although the bills have support from law enforcement, Neal Beaver, a lobbyist for defense attorneys, said problems arise as more time passes between the crime and an investigation and trial. Memories fade and evidence gets lost, he said.

But a prosecutor must still determine there is probable cause that the crime occurred and believe a conviction can be secured, Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, countered.

Committee Chairman Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said only one bill will be sent to the full House for a vote, and it could be some combination of removing the limits for felony child sex crimes and extending time limits for some other sex crimes.

The committee also was likely to follow the urging of Terry Lindeke of the National Organization for Women to “do something now” about the backlog of thousands of unprocessed rape kits.

Separate legislation calls for faster testing of new kits by the Washington State Patrol crime laboratory and approving a Survivor’s Bill of Rights that would allow victims to check online if their kits have been tested and require the state to pay for the medical exams that accompany the kits.

The bill also calls for new standards for storing kits while victims decide whether they want to press charges.

The only way to stop serial rapists who have been preying on victims for years is to test the kits, said Lindeke, who said she was sexually abused as a child. “We’ve got to stop them.”

Leah Griffin, another rape victim, said she went through a six-hour exam to provide the evidence for a rape kit and waited nine months for police to test the kit. The kit was not tested until a television news reporter asked about it.

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