GREENFIELD — A new bill sponsored by Greenfield’s representative in the Indiana State Senate could allow more adult victims of childhood sex crimes to seek justice — but it would create narrower conditions for prosecution than its author originally envisioned.
Current law requires prosecutions for sex crimes perpetrated against child victims to commence before the victim is 31 years old. The change would create exemptions to that rule if law enforcement finds DNA evidence of a crime; discovers a recording that provides evidence of a crime; or if a perpetrator confesses to a crime. This would apply to cases that occurred in the past, which could be revived if no charges were filed at the time.
The bill was amended after committee discussion from its original version, which would have entirely removed the statute of limitations for such crimes.
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, said he wrote the original version after consulting with advocacy groups dealing with child abuse and sexual violence.
“It’s a step forward,” Crider said. “It’s not as far as I hoped to get.”
The bill, Senate Bill 109, has passed on second reading and is expected to advance to third reading next week. If passed by the Senate, it will advance to the House for further consideration.
Crider said he anticipates the new law would allow more victims of sexual abuse to find justice. Victims of crimes that occurred when they were children who are now older than 31 will be able to report what happened, and investigations can be conducted.
“I’m pleased that it will be an opportunity for victims to contact law enforcement after age 31,” Crider said.
Camille Cooper, the vice president of public policy for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, attributed the changes to the bill to Sen. Mike Young, chairman of the Corrections and Criminal Law committee.
“I feel very conflicted about it,” Cooper said. “We are not pleased that the bill was amended.”
RAINN officially recommends that states eliminate the statute of limitations for felony-level sex crimes.
Cooper said she is a “political realist” and understands the need to make incremental changes, but that eliminating the statute of limitations entirely would have given more freedom to law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate such crimes. She said advocates made that argument to Young, but he was not persuaded.
Young said the changes to the bill were made to make the bill consistent with other state legislation on statutes of limitations. That includes “Jenny’s Law,” a 2015 law also authored by Crider that carved out the same exceptions for rape prosecutions.
“We didn’t want to have unlimited statute of limitations because of the ability to defend yourself in court,” Young said.
Young said the original version of the bill would have allowed for the prosecution of cases years after the fact when exculpatory evidence may have been lost or alibi witnesses may have died. He pointed to cases where individuals have been convicted of rape and then had those convictions overturned thanks to DNA evidence, saying that might not be possible with a decades-old case.
Young said law enforcement is free to investigate an older case if a potential victims comes forward, but that those investigations will have to meet a high bar for prosecution. He said the amendment protects the rights of both the accuser and the accused.
RAINN’s official guidance points out that changing a statute of limitations does not mean the burden of proof on the prosecution in a criminal case is any lighter.
“No matter whether a statute of limitations is five, 10 or 50 years, prosecutors must provide evidence that proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Statutes of limitations do not eliminate that burden nor make it easier to convict someone,” the guidance states.
Several adult survivors of sexual assault testified during the hearing on the bill. Each spoke about their experiences being abused as children by a church leader or family member. A 2017 study found that it takes an average of 24 years for victims of child sexual abuse to come forward, and for some it may take much longer. According to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, victims of abuse by clergy may have a harder time coming forward because of their spiritual relationship with their abusers, or because they turn first to other authorities within their religious communities who are not responsive.
Dawn Price testifed about her experience of being sexually abused by her adoptive father over a period of several years. After intensive therapy years later, she said, she was able to confront her father and was contacted by several other victims he had abused after meeting them through his work at a local church.
Because of the statute of limitations, none of those crimes could be prosecuted.
“Please make it possible for victims of predators to get justice,” Price said. “This bill, if passed, might just make a predator think twice before he rapes and destroys lives.”
Young asked Price about what the statute of limitations was at the time her abuse occurred. Price replied that she married and left Indiana at a young age, but was told by Howard County police when she came forward that the statute of limitations had expired.
“So up until the age of 31, you didn’t try to go to the prosecutors or anybody else at that point?” Young asked; Price replied that she had not. “Would you have been able to or would you want to at that point?”
“If I was in the state that I am now, mentally, I would have, but I couldn’t at that time,” Price said.
Cooper said she thought Young’s questioning of Price was insensitive.
“It doesn’t take a lot to just be sensitive and be kind to someone who has experienced trauma,” Cooper said. “When a survivor gets up there and speaks, the only acceptable response is kindness.”
Young said Cooper’s perception of the hearing was “completely, 100 percent wrong” and that Price could have declined to answer the question if she felt uncomfortable.
“Our job is to ask questions if we need to,” Young said.
Cooper said it was “difficult for me to watch” the hearing but that she was grateful for Crider’s work on the issue.
“Senator Crider has given his entire professional life to public safety,” Cooper said. “I love that guy, and it’s clear that he is trying so hard to pass good laws.”
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Senate Bill 109 is on the verge of a final vote in the Indiana Senate. If the Senate approves it, the bill will move to the House.