HARTFORD, CT – A proposal to extend the amount of time adult victims of a sexual assault have to report the crime was the subject of an emotional Judiciary Committee public hearing last week.
Victims, and advocates for victims, told committee members at the hearing Friday that the additional time is needed because it sometimes takes years for victims to find the courage to come forward.
Some, such as the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, argued there should be no time limit to report sexual assaults, noting that more than 20 states across the country already have laws in place either allowing victims 10 years or more to report crimes, and some, no time period whatsoever.
But some committee members, while sympathetic to the victims, voiced concerns over whether extending the time period, past the current five-year time period, would prove to be too costly.
Nonetheless, the testimony in favor of changing the current law was powerful and emotional.
One of those testifying in favor of the bill was Julian Warren, who described himself as a “37-year-old survivor of childhood sexual assault.”
Warren told the committee, “I was molested as a little boy. Now I’m 37 and still alive with the consequences of his actions.”
He said the sexual assault, which he didn’t remember until he was in his 30s, had an impact on all aspects of his life.
“As a child I started to get in trouble. By my teens I had been arrested, and hospitalized. Through my adult years I have battled addiction and incarceration,” Warren said.
He told the committee that “I have no idea how long it will take to bring it up all up and work through it, to get to a place where I may be able to confront my attacker. But it really doesn’t matter, does it. Currently I have no legal means to hold my abuser accountable.”
Warren’s testimony was all too familiar to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which has been advocating to change the statute of limitations for years.
“This bill proposes increasing the criminal statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes in Connecticut from 5 to 10 years,” Liza Andrews, director of policy and communications for the coalition testified. “While this is clear improvement, without completely eliminating the criminal statute of limitations, victims in Connecticut will still be left behind.”
Extending the statute of limitations to 10 years would put Connecticut behind 23 other states with longer or no statute of limitations, Andrews said.
The statute of limitations when a sexual assault is against a minor is still 30 years. In 2011, the Judiciary Committee failed to approve a bill that would have prospectively erased the statute of limitations for minors. A bill introduced the previous year would have erased the statute of limitations retrospectively, but it also failed to get any traction. The Catholic Church opposed bills, which came after the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that 23 lawsuits against pedophile priests in the Bridgeport Archdiocese should be unsealed and made public.
Extending the time period for adult victims, or having no statute of limitations at all is a concern, however, for the Office of the Chief Public Defender.
In written testimony to the committee, Deborah Del Prete Sullivan, legal counsel for the Office of the Chief Public Defender, said: “The extended period of time as proposed in this bill may allow for greater misplacement, destruction, and deterioration of evidence.
“Additionally, witnesses’ memories grow more prone to error and loss, and witness themselves may become difficult to locate or even pass away,” Sullivan added. “With such threats accumulating over time, it may be impossible or prohibitively expensive for an innocent person to present a fair defense.”
The Office of Chief Public Defender, however, is supporting a different bill, which would establish a task force to evaluate the statute of limitations.
Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, told the committee that another reason for Connecticut to join other states in extending the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases was, as he referred to it, the “Bill Cosby scandal.”
Cosby has been the subject of publicized sexual assault allegations, with the earliest incidents allegedly taking place 50 years ago. Cosby has been accused by over 60 women of either rape, drug facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, child sexual abuse, and/orsexual misconduct.
“Last year, in the wake of the Bill Cosby scandal, California took the bold step to eliminate the statute of limitations in order to provide justice,” Carney said. “Connecticut should do the same and, in the very least, extend the current statute of limitations to move us in the right direction.”
Carney said according to the U.S. Department of Justice rape, and sexual assault crimes are some of the lowest reported by victims – only 33.6 percent in 2014. “Much of this has to do with a person’s fear of going to authorities due to the potential for backlash, especially if the victim and the aggressor know one another,” Carney said.
Judiciary Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, became emotional when talking to the many victims of sexual assault who testified in front of the committee.
Winfield said he wanted “to align myself” with those testifying, stating he has “sexual abuse in my past and I never talked to anyone about it except my wife at the time.”
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, also praised the victims “courage” in testifying, stating he would be supporting legislation to extend the statute of limitations.