I have been sexually assaulted twice in my life.
Each incident was almost textbook in what we know about how sexual assault usually works. I was younger than my assaulter, and in both instances, he was in a position of power over me. In one instance, we had a relationship prior to the attack, including consensual sexual contact, and we continued to be cordial to each other for a short time after the attack.
Both instances left me crumpled, afraid and disgusted with myself. Even today, I feel as if both instances were my fault and that I could have stopped it from happening. I could have been more forceful. I could have spoken out sooner. I could have told someone.
One situation was just a few years ago. I know I’ll never speak up about it or try to bring charges. I could never take the scrutiny that someone like Andrea Constand experienced during the Bill Cosby trial. People used things like the fact that it had been 12 years earlier—just a week before the statute of limitations ran out—to discredit her. She also communicated with him after the attack—and that was supposed to mean she was lying, too.
I watched the trial coverage realizing that there are myriad things my attacker’s legal team could say in court that would be humiliating for me and would greatly reduce my chances of winning the case.
“They had sex before!”
“She suffers from depression!”
“She accused someone else of sexual assault!”
“She works in the entertainment industry!”
“She used to drink every single weekend!”
“This was years ago! How does she even remember what happened?”
I shudder just to think about it all. Though I believe this person should be punished, I just don’t have it in me to go through that process. I have to just stay in therapy to deal with what happened. And I console myself in knowing that I will do everything in my power to make sure my two daughters never experience this pain.
In the other instance, I was only 12 years old. And my abuser was my camp counselor. There are no gray areas here, and I have enough recall and witnesses to have a strong case. We are talking about something that happened over 30 years ago. But the only thing against me is the very thing that doesn’t matter in New Jersey: the length of time.
While my state doesn’t have a statute of limitations for sexual assault, I know that the court of public opinion still does. The question would be why. Why come forward now? As far as I can tell, my abuser has lived a pious life and is married with children and has had a storied life as a public figure. I’m sure people would either not believe me at all or think I had an ulterior motive for coming out of the woodwork now.
In Pennsylvania, where Cosby was tried, the laws state that minors who are victims of sexual assault have until the age of 50 to press charges. If I lived there, I would have six more years left.
Why do we place a statute of limitations on bringing charges of sexual assault? Why should you only have a certain amount of time to become strong enough to speak out? Is it to protect the victim or the accuser? Can someone who has been sexually assaulted only be trusted with correct testimony for a certain amount of time?
First-degree murder has no statute of limitations. There are cold cases that can be tried decades after the crime was committed. So what does that mean? We trust someone’s word or evidence if it’s murder, but not necessarily if it’s regarding another violent act?
This is why people who are victims of sexual assault often don’t speak up. It’s the kind of crime that loses its potency in the courtroom the more time goes by.
What hurts is that sexual assault is the kind of crime that actually needs time. Victims of rape and sexual assault don’t usually run to a lawyer to press charges. It’s hard enough to go to a hospital and seek treatment.
Things are changing—slowly. California recently removed statutes of limitations for sexual assault, and other states are reviewing their laws.
I am hopeful that the statutes of limitations for sexual assaults are removed nationwide.
The effects of a sexual assault are long-term and limitless.