Sexual violence is not treated like a crime. Period. And the data proves it. Men are the predominate abuser, women and minorities are the primary victim, and our criminal systems are built with patriarchy’s bias.
Every 98 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted. These staggering numbers show the pervasive reach of sexual violence and still, our rates of prosecution do not equate. 99.4% of perpetrators walk free from conviction, and those that do face conviction nearly never stay a full sentence (read: Brock Turner).
In order to report and prosecute, victims are forced to relive their trauma - often under the excruciating public eye - and face victim-blaming, scrutiny, and stigma. Victims who are immigrants, undocumented, sex workers, women of color, queer, drug users, or have prior criminal records are demotivated to report altogether because of added societal stigma and legal conflict. In effect, society criminalizes the many intersecting experiences familiar to the typical victim more than the actual sexual assault itself. It’s hard to wonder why sexual assault reporting is among the lowest of all crime reporting across the nation and why many victims don’t feel they owe their stories to anyone.
And yet, abusers are extremely likely to repeat their offense, so many do. It is estimated that an adolescent sex offender who does not receive treatment will commit 380 sex crimes over their lifetime. The high rates of campus sexual assault, for example, are due mostly to a small percentage of men who assault multiple women. The issue is about eradicating the small group of predators that are continually getting away with their crimes and deconstructing the systems of power that continue to protect them.
The #MeToo campaign is loudly proving the power of stories to shift narratives while creating a sphere of safety and assurance through people power. Victims of sexual assault are boldly sharing their experiences with sexual abuse - some for the first time, others for the tenth time, while others reserve their right not to share at all. Tarana Burke started this movement some 10 years ago as a means to combat violence against women and cultivate empowerment through empathy. The stories draw a web of connections between victims, unveiling of an overwhelming system of abuse. A stronger understanding of the silencing mechanism enabled through rape culture has prevailed.
This collective moment of shattering the silence reclaims power from the hands of abusers. In the specific instance of Harvey Weinstein, a very clear line has been drawn in the sand and his walls of supporters and shields are crumbling. The cultural and economic implications of loyalty and abandonment are already materializing. Regardless of how long Harvey Weinstein and others like him have been able to maintain their power, victim’s stories transcend time and unite us all against these abusers. The truth does not have a time limit.
Still, in 30 states, time limits for reporting rape and sexual assault do exist, adding further burden to the victim and effectively shielding the predator.
Reporting timelines in each of the 30 states vary and some states never implemented a statute of limitation at all. The inconsistency and irregularity of these laws systematically creates unnecessary barriers for victims who are forced to re-experience their trauma as they testify and are questioned throughout the legal process. These laws descend from rape culture that works to protect predators and silence victims.
When sexual assault reports mounted against Bill Cosby in 2014, it became increasingly clear that expired statutes of limitations would dissolve the potential for legal justice. The public knows 60+ women have come out against Cosby, and yet only one case will be the only heard in a court of law due to expired statutes. Even with these staggering numbers of accusations, Cosby could eventually become part of the 99.4% of perpetrators who walk free.
Even more disturbing, after the initial mistrial in late June 2017, Cosby’s publicist teased that the alleged serial sex offender would launch a nationwide tour to educate men on how not to get charged with sexual assault. This is how rape culture stays deeply embedded in society. This is what keeps victims silenced and serial rapists in our communities. We know it is extremely dangerous and irresponsible to allow this man to command an audience on this conversation and yet in the likely case of a not guilty verdict, this may soon be a reality.
In September 2016, grassroots organizers launched EndRapeSoL and successfully pressed Governor Brown to abolish
the existing 10-year statute of limitation on rape and sexual assault in California. Through 13 months of grassroots advocacy and creative campaigning, Assemblymembers unanimously motioned in support of justice for survivors. The movement swelled through public demonstration, including rallies outside the state capitol building and several protests on Cosby’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Since then, an unapologetic sexual predator became the President of the United States, emboldening predatory behavior, sounding the alarm on these issues. And now, it seems all but certain that we are on the cusp of a widespread Hollywood sex scandal. Harvey Weinstein’s pattern of abuse and sexual violence exposed the dark, underlying culture of the entertainment industry. Cultural leaders are making greater space for truth and storytelling, and calling for accountability for all who remain complicit.
In this moment, we must pave a clearer path towards justice for all victims of sexual assault. We must boldly stand together in the face of rape culture as it weds with celebrity power to wield its full silencing force upon the face of truth. We must shout back, loudly and creatively, to signal an emerging resistance - one that will crack through the shield of celebrity and reclaim our cultural spaces for audacious truth telling in pursuit of justice. We must abolish all timelines for reporting rape and sexual assault nationwide and free our truths and power structures from the shackles of patriarchy once and for all.
Find more information, donate, and join the campaign to end the statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault at endrapesol.org