I was intensely relieved when I learned that Bill Cosby had been arrested for rape 2½ weeks before the statute of limitations would have washed away his culpability forever. But I was also envious.
As a sexual assault victim, the statute of limitations in California ran out, and now I can never have the closure or the justice that some of Cosby’s victims may have. Worse yet, the upscale neighborhood where my assailant lives will never know he is a predator. His name will not be on the Megan’s Law registry of sex offenders.
California’s rape and sexual battery laws have a 10-year statute of limitations, and minors have until they are 28 to report the assaults. That time is ridiculously short. The statute of limitations on sexual assaults should be eliminated.
There are no time limitations on prosecutions for fraud, embezzlement or failing to repay a student loan. Why not for sexual assault with its heartbreaking and dangerous consequences for victims, families and the community?
Why do victims need so much time to come forward? A victim’s journey is a long one. Mine started when I was 10. What first seemed like a harmless game of hide-and-seek was actually an excuse to gratify this man’s sexual desires.
On the way home that day, I reflected on what had happened. I sensed the man’s desperate need to keep the game a secret, no matter what. As a 10-year-old, I did not question why this was; I only knew that he needed something I could give.
I decided to give my silence. I imagined myself holding out a gift-wrapped box to him, beaming a smile, the way you do when you give with pure love, and I imagined that when he took it, he would cry with joy.
Maybe that doesn’t make sense. But in the aftermath and in the confusion of all the other emotions I experienced, his need for secrecy was the only thing I could recognize and make sense of, and provide a solution for.
Fortunately for me, our family moved far away. I didn’t like to think about what happened, so I didn’t.
But blocking the memory didn’t stop the attack from affecting my life and nearly all of my relationships. Sexual assault leaves prolonged distress, confusion, paranoia, depression, guilt and other abnormalities in its tragic, often hidden path.
When my baby sister was a toddler, I was obsessively protective of her, causing years of family strife. Upon hearing children laughing in a park, I would rush up to them, terrified that I would see an adult playing an inappropriate touching game. Sometimes I would stare in agony, unable to reassure myself that things were fine even when I could see nothing wrong.
I’m happily married now with a loving husband and two wonderful children. When our first son was weeks old, I refused to let my husband change the diaper while the baby slept, telling him I didn’t want our son to get used to an adult taking off his pants while he was asleep.
My husband, startled and frustrated by the dysfunctional nature of my demand, asked, “Are you sure something didn’t happen to you when you were a kid?” I insisted nothing had happened, thinking it was an honest answer.
One day, I heard a decade-old story. It was news of another victim sexually battered by the same man who attacked me. I was forced to remember what happened, and to view what happened to me in a new light.
It took years for me to sort through my own victim-blaming guilt and my attempts to downplay the damaging effects. Once I saw events clearly, I could not keep quiet any longer. I’d been told before that where there is one victim, there are more. I had to stop it from happening again. I went to the police.
I prepared myself, knowing that sexual violence victims are often judged by their clothing, their attitudes, who they slept with, how often, and other irrelevancies. But I wasn’t ready for a collision with a statute of limitations that meant justice would not serve me or help protect the community where this man lives.
Meanwhile, this man could pass background checks to volunteer at a library, school or hospital with vulnerable potential victims.
Telling my story to friends revealed that some of them, men and women, had also experienced sexual assaults they never reported. And if my friends were to someday change their decision, the statute of limitations could effectively shield the crimes against them.
The passage of time erases neither the crime nor the damage. Victims serve a lifetime sentence of coping and adjusting to life. One of every eight adult women has been a victim of rape, and more than 60 percent of all rapes happen while the victim is a minor, according to the National Victim Center and the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center.
When allegations against Cosby came to light, Nevada lawmakers changed the state’s statute of limitations on rape from four years to 20. California’s law needs to accommodate victims of sexual assault, no matter how long it takes to unblock a memory, sort through the blame or gather courage to report the crime.
The current statute of limitations hinders society’s need to protect itself from those who prey on children. Let a judge decide on the significance of time passed. End the statute of limitations on sexual assault.
Lacey Waymire is a former reporter for the Colfax Record. She lives in Folsom.