Outgoing Democratic state Sen. Joe Schiavoni is pushing to eliminate the statute of limitations for civil cases of rape and sexual assault. The move was inspired in part by the Richard Strauss scandal at The Ohio State University, but the bill is unlikely to affect those cases.
Current limits are 25 years for criminal cases and two years in civil court. Schiavoni's bill would do away with both, but it cannot affect cases where the statute of limitations has already expired. Still, Schiavoni argues making the change is important to protect survivors in the future.
“There is no statute of limitations on murder, and there should not be a statute of limitations on rape,” he says. “Here in Ohio, we can establish our state as a place where we allow justice to be served to the survivors while adequately punishing the perpetrator, no matter when the act occurred.”
Because the measure isn’t retroactive, it likely wouldn’t help those alleging abuse against Strauss, a longtime Ohio State sports doctor who died in 2005. So far, 150 former students have come forward with first-hand experiences of sexual misconduct, and several dozen have filed class-action lawsuits against the university for failing to address the abuse.
Attorney Gloria Allred, who represented women accusing Bill Cosby of abuse, says Ohio's existing limitations mean one fewer legal avenue for Strauss survivors. But she’s not writing off their cases in federal court.
"It's an uphill battle for them,” Allred says. “I know there are lawsuits filed. I wish them success, but clearly there needs to be a change in state law."
Schiavoni says his bill is strictly forward-looking, but he notes some are lobbying for a kind of exemption tied to the Strauss case. Michigan lawmakers approved something similar, allowing people abused by Michigan State sports doctor Larry Nassar to file claims regardless of how much time had passed.
Schiavoni is unlikely to push the measure through the General Assembly before his term ends next month. But he says a number of Democratic co-sponsors are ready to pick up the bill in the new year.
A different bill has been introduced in the General Assembly with support from Republicans, dealing only with statutes of limiations for ciminal cases. But that has not been fast-tracked for passage during the lame-duck session, either.