Prosecutors and advocates are applauding Governor Andrew Cuomo’s calls to eliminate the statute of limitations for rape in the 2nd and 3rd degrees.
The governor outlined his priorities in his annual State of the State address Tuesday.
Right now, there is no statute of limitations for first degree rape so someone can be convicted of that crime any number of years later.
Cuomo is asking lawmakers to make the same true for suspects facing other rape charges.
“I could not be happier,” said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn when he heard about Cuomo’s latest push to change the law.
Flynn points out the statute of limitations for first degree rape, or forcible rape, was removed in 2006.
But, currently, his office only has a five year window to prosecute cases of rape in the 2nd or 3rd degree.
Second degree rape occurs when someone age 18 or older has sexual intercourse with someone under age 15, or with someone who is mentally disabled or mentally incapacitated.
Third degree rape occurs when someone age 21 or older has sexual intercourse with a person under age 17, or with someone who is incapable of consent.
“Rape in the 3rd degree is what you see in a lot of times with date rape cases. 09:31:35 where individuals are intoxicated and/or drugged,” Flynn explained.
Regardless of the circumstances of the rape, Flynn says in many cases survivors do not come forward right away.
Counselors at Crisis Services say it can take a long time before survivors are ready to talk.
“I think every survivor’s story is different, and so I think the reason for telling the story and the way that it’s told is different. But there’s certainly a component of trauma and how that affects somebody,” said Sam Vaughn, the supervising counselor in the advocate department at Crisis Services.
“But what we really encourage survivors to take away from all of this new news is that it’s still when you’re ready and that we’re here when they are,” he added.
Vaughn points out that justice means different things to different survivors. Some just want to have their story heard, while others want to see the person who raped them put behind bars.
Vaughn applauded the push from the governor to give the latter more time to act.
“Laws like these are really going to help push forward the narrative that this is a big deal and that it matters and perpetrators will be held accountable for the actions that they commit,” he said.
The District Attorney admits trying older cases will bring many challenges, but he says he will cross that bridge if he can get to it.
“If I can’t prove a case, then obviously I’ll tell the victim, here are the obstacles and evidence that I have, here are my challenges and I’ll walk it through with the victim, and let them know whether we can proceed or not proceed. But I need to be able to get started in the first place,” Flynn said.
“I want individuals to know that for those who do come forward at a later date, I’m going to believe them. I’m going to take their case seriously. And I will be prosecuting those cases,” Flynn added. “But I need the tools to prosecute.”
Flynn pointed out that many of the cases coming out of the developing church sex abuse scandal are considered rape in the 2nd or 3rd degree because of the age of the victims, but he notes changing the statute of limitations now would not affect any case he’s heard of to this point.
All of the cases that have now been made public date back decades, but changing the statute of limitations would only affect new future cases, or possibly cases from the last five years, depending on how the bill is written.
When state lawmakers eliminated the statute of limitations for first degree rape in 2006, they included language for a five year look back window, allowing prosecutors to press charges in cases going back to 2001.