Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law a bill that eliminates the statute of limitations on rape and aggravated sodomy as advocates, lawmakers and a rape survivor applauded Monday.
House Bill 2252 also allows victims of other violent sexual crimes 10 years after turning age 18 to report a crime, a move intended to help those who were molested or assaulted by a family member and are afraid to report it until they can safely leave their home.
Kansas joins about 20 other states that have no time limit for the prosecution of rape.
“I think this is a very important message and signal to put out there,” Brownback said.
Several rape and assault survivors from the Wichita area testified earlier this year about how they couldn’t get justice despite taped confessions and other evidence because the state’s laws didn’t allow prosecution after the statute of limitations ran out.
The bill had broad support, including that of Wichita Democratic Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Democratic Reps. Gail Finney and Ponka-We Victors.
Faust-Goudeau said the eight victims from Wichita who came to testify are thankful and grateful that the bill is becoming law.
Mel Townsend, a rape survivor who testified about how a serial rapist broke into her home in Lawrence and assaulted her, said she is elated about the bill being passed.
She said it will help other survivors.
“It will give them a little bit of hope,” she said.
Only three other crimes in Kansas have no statute of limitations – murder and two terrorism-related charges approved after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said new technology allows authorities to prove who committed crimes.
It’s not clear how many new cases will be prosecuted under the new law, he said.
“It won’t change the reality that evidence has to be there in order for a successful prosecution to be mounted,” he said. “And the passage of time can weaken some types of evidence. But in cases where there is strong and enduring evidence, such as physical evidence, the law will now not create an arbitrary bar.”
Schmidt said the bill has a big impact on prosecution of child sex crimes, too.
“The effect of this on our ability to hold accountable those who prey on kids… is going to be measurable,” he said.
About 90 percent of child sex crimes involve family members or other trusted adults.
“That makes it even more difficult. When a child leaves the house at, say, age 18, in many ways that’s when the clock starts running on the child’s ability to weigh the consequence of disclosing or to allow the memory to come forward to be disclosed,” he said. “They’re very difficult crimes. This is a big step.”