In recent weeks, more than 40 victims have come forward accusing seven former staff members and four former students at St. George’s School, an Episcopalian prep school in Middletown, RI., of sexual assault. Lawyers for the victims said the assaults took place between 1974 and 2004.
Harry Groome, a victim, first wrote a letter revealing his assault to the school’s headmaster in 2002. Groome then forwarded this letter to a new headmaster in 2004. Neither headmaster took any action.
Fortunately, the perpetrators of these crimes will be able to be prosecuted because Rhode Island does not have a statute of limitations on cases involving rape or first-degree sexual assault; regrettably, the statute of limitations for cases of rape in Massachusetts is 15 years.
A staggeringly low number of rapists are actually convicted. Only two percent of all reported rapes lead to a felony conviction and only 32 percent of all rapes are reported to police, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Some states, such as Minnesota, have statutes of limitation as short as three years. Prosecutors need more tools, not fewer, to convict rapists. If prosecutors have enough evidence to prove that someone is guilty, they should be able to take their case to court, regardless of the amount of time that has passed.
Coming to terms with sexual assault is difficult. Coming forward to the authorities as a victim of sexual assault can be even harder. It comes with the risk of being disbelieved, shunned and stigmatized. As such, imposing a statute of limitations on reporting rape shows an alarming disregard for the emotional well-being of the victims. All victims deserve justice – but having a statute of limitations inherently suggests that only victims who have come to terms with their rape within a subjectively chosen time frame have valid cases in the eyes of the law.
In cases of rape, there should be no statute of limitations. Carmen Durso, a lawyer representing some of the victims in the St. George’s case, said, “Sexual abuse in education is the clergy-abuse crisis of this decade, if not this century, and you’re going to see more and more of it.” Rape cases in America are fraught with endless hurdles that obstruct justice and silence victims. We should not be so negligent as to allow a factor as arbitrary as time become yet another complication in a victim’s road to recovery and reclamation of personhood.
This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXVIII.