For the first time since November, a Senate committee heard testimony on a bill to eliminate the time limit on prosecuting rapes.
Jane Bryan is still haunted by the late night rape of her mother by a man who broke into their Akron home in 1991, while she and her siblings slept in the next room. Her rape kit was lost at the police station, and when it was finally tested in 2014, there was a match to a serial rapist in prison and set for release in 2022.
“Under Ohio’s current laws, that this man who violently raped my mother, he can never be held accountable. My family has essentially been told that despite our efforts, it’s simply been too much time and the door to justice has been closed," Bryan said.
Bryan is now a sexual assault nurse examiner with the Cleveland Clinic in Akron. She was testifying for a bill that would eliminate the time period in which rape can be prosecuted.
The state’s window is now 25 years, with a possible five-year extension if a DNA match is returned. But that change was made the year after Jane Bryan’s mother’s rape kit was tested. The statute of limitations on rape was just six years until 1999, then went to 20 years, then to 25.
But advocates, including medical professionals, prosecutors and survivors say it’s still not long enough.
Forrest Thompson is the prosecutor in Medina County. He told lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee of meeting with a woman who’d been raped and strangled by a man she’d given a ride home to in 1993. Thompson said her rape kit hadn’t been tested until four months after the statute of limitations expired. There was a hit but the case was closed, though the woman and her attacker both live in the same community.
“She knows he’s been identified and we can’t do anything about it. I don’t ever want to have to do that again," Thompson said. "The statute of limitations that applies in rape cases is outdated, it’s arbitrary, and has no function under the law."
And there were some survivors who wanted to talk publicly about their fear and frustration.
Anna Cunningham from southeast Ohio told of the past abuse she and her children endured and that she’s heard about as an advocate for others. She said denial, shame, confusion and a lack of a support system can make it hard for a survivor to come forward, sometimes for years.
“If we the people cannot disclose crimes committed against our person in our own time, these crimes, especially rape, have us in bondage, then how can we call ourselves free people? It is time for all victims of rape to no longer be gagged," Cunningham said.
This bill would also roll back the protection for spouses who force their partners into non-consensual sex. Right now they can’t be charged with rape. Ohio is one of 11 states where marital rape is still legal.
Erin Ryan with the Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network told lawmakers that false accusations of rape are rare, and that the arguments for keeping the statute of limitations don’t work with the science that law enforcement now has.
“I think that there is always this outdated notion that the evidence will be lost, will not be as concrete. But we know because of these advances to DNA testing, we know, given the number of cases that have been addressed after the statute of limitations, that should not be as much of a concern anymore," said Ryan.
Democrats have proposed bills to eliminate the statute of limitations on rape and allow for prosecution of marital rape several times.
This bill is sponsored by all nine Senate Democrats and Republicans Peggy Lehner and Stephanie Kunze. Opponents will testify at future hearings.
The House is considering a bill to extend the statute of limitations for hundreds of students who allege sexual abuse and assault by Ohio State University’s Dr. Richard Strauss in the 80s and 90s, and allow them to sue OSU. But the sponsors of this bill say it would cover anyone who’s been raped.