Advocates for survivors of sexual assault joined Minnesota lawmakers Thursday in a push to repeal a time limit for prosecutions of those crimes.
New legislation would remove the three-to-nine year statute of limitations on crimes involving sexual conduct and sex trafficking, depending on the offense.
Asma Mohammed spoke at a news conference as as an assault survivor who used to work with Twin Cities school children, some of whom shared with her their own experiences of abuse.
“In a few years, the current statute of limitations will no longer protect them and protect their right to report,” said Mohammed, program manager for Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment. “It will protect their perpetrators instead and allow them to be happy that the people they hurt are silenced by the system.”
Caroline Palmer, legal affairs manager for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said this is one of a flurry of bills introduced this year intended to help victims of sexual harassment or violence.
“Trauma has no timeline, so it’s very very important that we set up a judicial system that responds to them,” Palmer said.
Murder is the only crime of violence now in Minnesota law with an indefinite window for prosecution.
If enacted, the new legislation would apply to new crimes and wouldn’t be retroactive.
The state lawmakers behind the bill — Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul and Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis — said momentum created by the #MeToo movement should give a boost to the effort. They said now is the time to act because more victims feel comfortable telling their stories of harassment and abuse.
Omar said perpetrators shouldn’t be able to get away with crimes just because time passes.
“These survivors and victims are criminalized, brutalized, attacked and silenced,” Omar said. “And the last thing we want to do is advance a system that continues to silence and re-victimize them.”
Extending the statute of limitations would have implications for evidence collection and storage. Prosecutors would also need to depend on witness testimony remaining sharp over time.
Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chairman Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said he’s open to the discussion but has his reservations.
“We don’t want to turn a blind eye toward sexual harassment or sexual attack but we do want to focus on the parameters of criminal law that have long been established and dictate the terms of how we go forward with an accusation and an eventual conviction,” Limmer said, adding, “The longer you are away from the crime, often times the evidence is destroyed, maybe it wasn’t collected in the first place.”