Rape victims should always have the option to file charges

California State Senator Connie M. Leyva is currently in the process of introducing a bill that would get rid of the statute of limitation for rape and sexual assault charges. Currently the statute of limitation for rape cases in California is 10 years or until 26 years of age for victims who were minors. The amount of time allotted to press charges does not give enough time for every victim to find closure and receive the justice they deserve.

By the time the victim is able to even fully process what happened and start to seek closure, the option to pursue charges and see the perpetrator face consequences could be closed. If there is enough evidence to push a case to trial or even win a case, why should the law shut that door for victims?

Our thought process tends to go along the lines of, if I was raped or sexually assaulted, of course I would go to the authorities. How could I live with myself knowing I let the perpetrator go and the perpetrator could potentially rape or assault other victims? I would hold the perpetrator and not the victim accountable no matter their relations to me. Yes, we like to think that we’re the exception.

Unfortunately, that’s just not our reality. Over 80 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. Perhaps a family friend, a significant other or even a relative. How hard do you think it would be to report a friend or a significant other? Sometimes the victim’s voice is buried underneath piles of other voices. These other voices might tell the victim things such as, the assault wasn’t even a big deal, the perpetrator was your friend, how could you ruin their life forever, can’t they just go to counseling and promise never to do it again? All kinds of things that might inadvertently blame the victim for the assault and for wanting to prosecute.

Not everyone has the courage and the support to immediately report the perpetrator and pursue a case. Our society just isn’t there yet. There’s too many deterrents for victims and not everyone is lucky enough to have support from their community, including family, friends and even the police force.

Victims are so afraid of being victimized yet again by the system. They are afraid that they’ll go through layers and layers of questions, doubts, assucations and blames. They’re afraid that their dignity and the validity of their claims will be questioned because maybe they originally said yes and changed their mind, they had been drinking, out partying too late or wearing something supposedly too revealing.

It can be emotionally and mentally difficult for a victim to file a claim. The victim must do so knowing that they will have to confront and face their perpetrator in court, where lawyers will try to poke holes in their claims and pressure them to admit their own faults. In the end, even a victim who prosecutes rarely sees the attacker punished. Only two in every 100 rapists will actually spend any amount of time in prison.

One can argue that it is unfair for a perpetrator to continuously live in fear of a crime committed long ago, especially someone who has since become a pillar of society. But there’s a fundamental difference between someone who stole from a convenience store and someone who violated another person. Rape is the kind of crime that’s actively committed against another person and their fundamental rights. It’s the type of crime that continuously affects the victim.

In the long-term, victims of sexual assault are more likely to experience depression and dissociation. They often withdraw from the people close to them in order to cope with the traumatizing ordeal, which further distances them from reality. Survivors often experience extreme feelings of anger, sadness, hopelessness, distrust and a general feeling of unsureness.

It’s unfair to expect survivors to be able to immediately file charges in the midst of recovery. Not everyone processes this type of hurt and grief well. Some people need a few years to come to terms, to be okay with what happened and to start to accept themselves again.
No matter how long it takes a person to process this form of violation on their bodies and rights, they should have the option to see their perpetrator face consequences. We should abolish the statute of limitation on rape so that victims are not given a timeline they must follow in order to grieve and be punished further for taking too long to process, recover and make the difficult decision to file charges.

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