TOPEKA — The serial rapist who stalked a Kansas college student before breaking into her place, tying her up and raping her may go free.
That’s if he can evade capture for about another year – surpassing Kansas’ five-year statute of limitations on rape cases.
“I will not ever and could not ever forget the details of what happened that night, even if I wanted to,” the woman, now 24, told legislators last week.
If the rapist avoids detection for five years, he could go free, she said. “I have to live with it my whole life.”
For the same reason, a 23-year-old woman said her uncle won’t face prosecution even though her family has a recording of him confessing how he sexually abused her at ages 7 and 11.
“I didn’t tell anyone because I was in fear, in fear of breaking up my family and in fear of my parents not believing me,” she told lawmakers. “The secret ate me up inside. It destroyed me spiritually, emotionally and physically.”
What followed was years of depression and self-medication that led her to consider suicide.
When the woman finally told her secret, she found out her sister had been abused by their uncle, too. Soon she learned there might be six victims in all, but detectives in Wichita told her nothing could be done since the alleged crimes happened more than five years ago.
“Doesn’t this sound wrong?” she asked. “Shouldn’t the statute be protecting me?”
The woman’s mother wept as she testified last week to lawmakers, who are considering increasing Kansas’ statute of limitations for prosecuting sexual assaults and rape from five years after the crime or five years after the victim’s 18th birthday to 10 years after the crime or 10 years from when the victim turns 18.
The House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice plans to vote to advance the bill this week.
Some advocates hope to eliminate the statue of limitations on rape entirely.
About 20 states have no time limit for prosecuting rape, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Kansas is among 10 states with limits of five years or less, although Kansas is among those with an exception that allows for prosecution within one year of a DNA match.
Kyle Smith, deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, said the state’s statute is left over from “the middle ages” when there were no fingerprints or DNA evidence in crimes. The state had a two-year statute of limitations. It was recently extended to five years.
Smith said extending the statute to 10 years doesn’t change the level of evidence needed to prosecute a case.
“If it is a good case and we can prove the person did it… why on Earth would we let the criminals go free?”
He said the proposed law change won’t help past victims because it can’t be applied retroactively, but it will help future victims.
The state’s top police and sheriff’s associations say many victims are afraid to report crimes, and they want the law changed.
“These victims deserve their day in court when the allegations can still be proven regardless of the delay,” Ed Klumpp testified on behalf of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, the Kansas Sheriffs Association and the Kansas Peace Officers Association. “Just as importantly, we must take steps necessary to assure the perpetrators of these crimes are stopped from continuing their criminal attacks on others.”
No one opposed House Bill 2252 or the virtually identical Senate Bill 167. Both bills have bipartisan support. Wichita Democrats Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Reps. Gail Finney and Ponka-We Victors are among lawmakers pushing for the bill.
They’re joined by at least 26 Democrats and Republicans sponsoring bills to change the law.
Finney cried as she thanked several rape victims who told their stories of being raped and abused but have no avenue for justice because of the statute of limitations.
“To me, you guys are heroes,” Finney said. “There are too many women … who have been silent or too embarrassed or in fear or have repressed their memories.”
In 2011, social service providers helped 4,047 sexual assault victims. During the same year, law enforcement got 1,103 reported assaults that netted 259 arrests, according to the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, a nonprofit group.
The coalition says the disparity shows many people don’t report such crimes to police.
“When that five-year mark passes with no arrest or charges, many victims lose hope that they will ever feel safe again,” the coalition said in written testimony.
Mark Frame, Edwards County attorney, testified that most rape prosecutions fall within the five-year statute of limitations but that when they don’t, it’s terrible to tell victims he can’t prosecute. He suggested the law should include aggravated sodomy to allow male victims the same rights.
“There should be no limitations of action for either,” he wrote.