By Jackie Brant
TW: Sex Crimes
Democrats in the Ohio General Assembly have recently introduced a bill to the state legislature that would abolish the statute of limitations for sex crimes in the state. This same bill would also eliminate exemptions for sex crimes including spousal rape and sexual battery.
The introduction of the bill comes in response to Governor Mike Dewine’s comments following the exposure of previous sex crimes committed at The Ohio State University. Richard Strauss, a former athletic trainer at OSU, was found to have committed at least 177 separate cases of sexual abuse during his time at the university between 1979 and 1996. Strauss committed suicide in 2005.
Despite the number and severity of these cases, it is likely that Strauss could not have been prosecuted for the vast majority of his crimes if he were alive today. Ohio’s statute of limitations for rape specifically is 20 to 25 years depending on the circumstances, and the statute of limitations for other felony sex crimes can be as short as six years. Misdemeanors are even less, with some being only one to two years.
After these allegations against Strauss blew up this year, Dewine urged the state legislature to consider drafting and passing a bill that would not only abolish the statute of limitations for sex crimes, but would also increase the penalties for sex crimes — especially when committed by authority figures such as college employees.
These sorts of cases unfortunately occur all too frequently. This Strauss case is very similar to what occurred with the numerous allegations against Bill Cosby regarding the function of the statute of limitations. At the time of Cosby’s trials in California, the statute of limitations for rape was only 10 years. The majority of the allegations against Cosby pertained to events that occurred between 1960 and 1980, rendering all the accusers from that time period unable to bring charges against him.
Ultimately, Cosby was only found guilty on three counts of aggravated assault from an incident in 2004 in the state of Pennsylvania, and was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison. He faced no charges in California. Soon after the allegations surfaced, California abolished the statute of limitations for sex crimes in direct response. Unfortunately, this repeal of the statute of limitations is not retroactive, meaning that the repeal will only impact future crimes.
It seems that Ohio will take this same path. Just as Cosby’s victims will never be able to receive justice or closure for his actions, Strauss’ victims will never receive justice for his actions. The statute of limitations for sex crimes has literally prevented hundreds of people in these two cases alone from getting the justice they deserve.
Currently, fewer than 30 states have abolished the statute of limitations for first-degree rape charges, and even fewer have abolished the statute of limitations for any sex crimes other than rape. If Ohio’s state legislature successfully passes this bill, it would be one of the most comprehensive and progressive repeals of the statute of limitations for sex crimes in the United States.
While I understand the reasoning behind the statute of limitations — to ensure that adequate evidence can still be gathered — the practice is simply unnecessary today, given advancements in modern DNA technology. There was a time when the statute of limitations made sense, but now it is entirely outdated. Not only has DNA testing evolved, but our ability to store all sorts of evidence — including DNA evidence — has also advanced to an extremely high level. As long as evidence can be collected efficiently and stored effectively, the argument in favor of maintaining the statute of limitations in cases of rape and sexual assault collapses.
Ohio residents — especially progressive Ohioans — should be both excited and hopeful by the possibility of this bill passing. First and foremost, the bill would allow thousands of people in the future to get the justice that they deserve. The statute of limitations allows abusers to hide behind these limitations and escape the punishment that they deserve — it protects perpetrators of sex crimes rather than victims of these crimes. Abolishing the statute of limitations would be a step in the right direction to ensure that lawmakers are doing everything in their power to make the justice system work for victims of sex crimes.
However, the high likelihood of this bill passing is also symbolic of something deeper. During the past few years, Ohio residents have gone through a great deal. We faced a shocking 2016 election, abortion rights have been under attack, we have seen a mass shooting with no action by the Ohio legislature to prevent another one, and the opioid epidemic continues to ravage the state. The political and economic turmoil across the state has led some to question whether Ohio can even be considered a swing state anymore.
However, this bill provides a reason for hope. Although this story has been drastically underreported by popular local news sources, all Ohioans should care about it. The investigation into Richard Strauss and The Ohio State University was both appalling and terrifying, and it shocked residents of the state and the country in general. However, Ohio has a chance not only to prevent this from happening again in the future, but also to enact one of the most comprehensive and progressive reforms to the prosecution of rape and other sex crimes in the country.
The Ohio state legislature must seriously consider passing this bill not only to correct the current wrongs of the justice system, but to protect its citizens going forward. Ohio has the unique opportunity to be a trailblazer in this arena. Lawmakers have a responsibility to protect its citizens to the best of its ability.