CLEVELAND-- It’s a crime that’s violent, traumatizing and often goes unreported. On Monday,
Ohio’s highest law enforcement official announced a proposal to eliminate the statute of limitations for rape. Under current Ohio law, a person who commits rape, cannot be prosecuted for the crime after 20 years have passed.
"I don't think that a rapist ought to be able to run out the clock on justice," said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.
Yost was flanked by two former Attorneys General, Nancy Rogers and Betty Montgomery, to publicly announce a plea to state lawmakers. They are urging the state legislature to toss out the current 20-year statute of limitations for rape offenses. Yost and five of Ohio's former Attorneys General sent a letter to state lawmakers, requesting that there be no time limit on prosecuting rape cases, just like it is for murder.
"We believe that murder and rape have a lot in common in the sense that they are grievous offenses," Yost said.
"Almost two thirds of sexual assaults are never reported to law enforcement and even some of those that are reported, there's a delay of months, years, sometimes even decades before survivors feel comfortable coming forward," said Sondra Miller, CEO of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.
Miller said she believes the public has a growing understanding of the impact of sexual assault.
"It's all kinds of reasons why a survivor might wait a certain amount of time and then feel like they should still have access to our public criminal justice system, and we agree that they should,” Miller said.
Yost cited the case of the now-deceased Ohio State team doctor, Richard Strauss, accused of sexually abusing 177 male athletes from 1979 to 1996. He used it as an example of why the change in law is needed.
In 2002, then Cuyahoga County prosecutor Bill Mason cited Ohio law as a limiting factor in the widespread Catholic priest sex abuse scandal.
"But for the statute of limitations issue, there would have been more priests indicted," Mason said at the time.
"This isn't like having the stuff stolen out of your car, your garage… This isn't even like getting into a bar fight, this is the invasion of the most personal aspect of humanity," Yost said.
Critics of the proposal argue that old evidence and the alleged victim’s memory will deteriorate over time, making it unreliable. Yost said advances in forensics have made DNA and sexual assault examinations more accurate.
The CEO of the Rape Crisis Center said removing the statute of limitations for rape has come up many times over the years in Ohio, but it has never passed successfully.