Should there be a Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Crimes?


I’ve always questioned the need for any statute of limitations for any crime.  I remember a case some years ago when police were searching a man’s house that they discovered a number of very valuable items that had been reported stolen over twenty years earlier.  While they were able to return the items to the rightful owners, the man escaped any prosecution because the statute of limitations had expired.

What bothers me even more is when someone goes free after committing a crime of sexual abuse, molestation or rape because the statute of limitations had expired.  Do you remember all of the sex scandals involving Catholic priests?  Many of the cases had to be dismissed because they were older than the statute of limitations allowed.

Some states have been either extending or limiting the statute of limitations for crimes involving some sort of sexual abuse, but Iowa is not one of those states, but that may change.  The Iowa State Supreme Court just heard a case that is prompting them to consider whether to uphold the statute of limitations, extend it or eliminate it in a case involving a woman who has accused a former teacher of sexual abuse.

The lawsuit, Jane Doe v. the New London School District, was filed by a woman who claims that she and other students were sexually abused at the hands of teacher Gina Sisk.  According to the lawsuit, the charges of sexual abuse include both New London Keokuk school districts.  The woman, identified only as Jane Doe, graduated from high school in 2004 and then moved away from the New London area.

The problem is that Iowa still has a 10 year statute of limitations on this type of crime.  The school district’s attorney has asked the courts to dismiss the lawsuit because it surpassed the 10 year statute of limitations.  Attorney Steve Ort told the local media:

“Without making light or diminishing in any way what happened to Jane Doe, it does not change the fact that all events occurred almost and in many instances more than 10 years ago.  There is a statute of limitations in Iowa.”

Jane Doe’s attorney, Roxanne  Conlin is using the ‘discovery rule’ to argue that the statute of limitations did not start until Doe realized that her current psychological problems were related to the six years of sexual abuse.  This counseling session occurred in 2011, which Conlin says is well within the 10 year statute of limitations. In many states involving educator sexual abuse cases, their statute of limitation doesn’t start until the victim turns 21 or realizes that they were the victim.  Conlin said:

“The victim, Jane Doe, always knew that there had been sex between her and Gina Sisk.  What she did not know is that it caused her harm. And that is what she must know. She has to know she has a cause of action.”

In February 2013, District Judge Cynthia Danielson dismissed Ort’s request to dismiss the case because of the statute of limitations.  Ort appealed the decision to the Iowa State Supreme Court who heard argument in the case earlier this month.  If the court upholds the lawsuit, Iowa would be forced to establish the same kind of rules as other states have concerning when the statute of limitations starts ticking down.

But I want to know why there has to be any statute of limitations on sex crimes in the first place.  Just because someone gets away with committing a crime for 10 years should not mean that they are then free from any prosecution from then on.  In most instances, once a sex offender always a sex offender and giving them a 10 year free pass is just wrong.

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