Editor’s note: This article contains mention of rape and sexual assault.
The Ohio State Senate began hearings on Senate Bill 162, which would eliminate the statute of limitations on rape, attempted rape, and conspiracy to commit rape, on Nov. 13 of this year. Co-sponsored by Senators Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta), the bill would also close a legal loophole that allows rape within marriage to go unpunished.
This bill is important for a variety of reasons, many of them self-evident. Murder and aggravated murder are currently the only crimes without a statute of limitations in Ohio. Rape is a horrible, violent crime that turns the survivor’s body itself into the crime scene. Already, several other states — such as Kentucky and West Virginia — have implemented laws to get rid of time constraints on the prosecution of certain sex crimes.
During her sponsor testimonial, Antonio described how current Ohio rape laws do not account for modern DNA technology because investigators used to believe that biological evidence had too short a shelf life to be used in trial decades later. Now, DNA technology can be used to identify a perpetrator even when a sample is decades old. This technique was recently used to identify and arrest a suspect in the Golden State Killer case in California, a case more than 30 years old. Inputting the DNA from old samples into a genealogical database led authorities to the serial murderer and rapist Joseph DeAngelo after decades of searching. It is important to note that in this case, authorities were able to arrest DeAngelo only because he had committed murders as well as rapes.
Antonio also highlighted how survivors of rape often do not feel comfortable or even safe reporting their assault immediately after it happens. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, four out of five rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. A person’s rapist may be a family member or someone in a position of power over them. Unfortunately, and sickeningly, reporting a sexual assault still has realisticly more consequences for the victim than for the perpetrator.
Senate Bill 162 is a step towards a legal understanding of the impact rape has on someone. The bleak fact, as Antonio put it, is that out of 1,000 reported rapes nationally, only five cases ultimately end in a conviction, according to RAINN. This, Antonio said, “means that prosecutors need more, not fewer, tools to prosecute rapists.”
Currently, Ohio law actually works against prosecutors, since rape within marriage is only considered a crime if “threat of force or violence” exists. With that wording, it is perfectly legal for someone to drug their spouse and force them to participate in sexual acts. SB 162 would close that loophole. Laws about spouses not testifying against each other, which understandably complicate the prosecution of assault within a marriage, are also explicitly addressed by the bill.
SB 162 is extremely important and, luckily, it looks like it has the support it will need to become law. This past May, current Attorney General Dave Yost and five former attorneys general came out in support of such a bill in a letter to Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives Larry Householder and President of the Ohio Senate Larry Obhof.
“We now know that the trauma associated with a rape has a lifetime impact on a survivor, making it a different sort of offense than theft or dealing drugs or extortion,” the letter said.
Governor Mike DeWine made a similar request for a bill to end the statute of limitations on rape the month before, in April, in response to the sex abuse scandal at The Ohio State University. This request may be surprising considering his stance on abortion — DeWine signed the “heartbeat bill” into law that same April, prohibiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
SB 162, if put into effect, would not apply to crimes already past the statute of limitations. This means that if a rape case that is over 20 years old reaches its expiration date before the bill is signed into law, the state would be unable to prosecute the perpetrator. That’s just another reason why lawmakers need to approve this bill as soon as possible. Until then, it’s important to believe and support survivors because the law is not necessarily on their side.