Shaw: Survivors of sexual assault shouldn’t be limited by time

Survivors of sexual assault are put in a completely unfair position in terms of reporting their experience because of toxic social stigma and statutes of limitation.

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Shaw: Survivors of sexual assault shouldn’t be limited by time

Christine Blasey Ford takes a breath at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Melina Mara/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)

Christine Blasey Ford takes a breath at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Melina Mara/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)

TNS

Christine Blasey Ford takes a breath at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Melina Mara/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)

TNS

TNS

Christine Blasey Ford takes a breath at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Melina Mara/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)

Nichole Shaw, Opinion Columnist

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Sexual-assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh bring about concerns regarding blaming the victim and further coercion into not reporting sex crimes. It is important to note that Christine Blasey Ford, the victim of Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual abuse, had her letter leaked because she didn’t want to publicly report the misconduct initially.

Understanding why sexual-assault survivors don’t immediately report, or report their experience at all, is crucial.

President Trump has pledged his full support for Kavanaugh and dismissed Ford’s charges of alleged sexual abuse and second accuser Deborah Ramirez with harsh comments directed at the women. Trump took to Twitter Sept. 21 to say, “If the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local law-enforcement authorities by either her or her loving parents.” This mentality is rooted in a judgmental mindset that shames victims and disregards their trauma.

Trump has labeled Ramirez as “totally inebriated and all messed up” at the time of the reported assault. That narrative is toxic because it perpetuates victim-blaming stigmas that excuse abusers by asserting that a victim didn’t do enough to stop the assault. Statements such as this exemplify how aggressive and ugly the backlash of coming forward with sexual-assault allegations can be.

Another detrimental effect on sexual-assault victims are statutes of limitations. They were initially established to discourage convictions from unreliable witnesses’ testimony, according to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. This includes events recalled from memory.

Iowa’s statute of limitations for sexual abuse is 10 years — 25 years after sexual-assault victims turn 18 if they were a minor at the time of the crime — according to Iowa Code 802.2. The exception for Iowa is if the perpetrator is identified by use of a DNA profile, indictment should occur within three years of identification.

That statute brings about the argument that after a certain number of years, people’s decision to come forward with the trauma they’ve experienced will no longer be valid. This is especially interesting in the case of Kavanaugh, because the alleged sexual assault happened more than 10 years ago. Thus, Ford’s testimony would be useless in terms of charging or convicting Kavanaugh had the crime taken place in Iowa. 

RELATED: New allegations surface against Kavanaugh 

This invalidation disregards a survivor not being ready to endure the intense process of reporting sexual assault. In fact, two in three sexual assaults go unreported, because survivors had a fear of retaliation, believed police wouldn’t do anything to help, or thought it was a private matter, among other reasons. Furthermore, approximately two-thirds of victims know the perpetrators, which could also explain lack of reporting because they don’t want to hurt that person or would feel embarrassed for doing so. Iowa’s statute further complicates the issue because it puts the victim on a timer to report something they might not be emotionally ready to grapple with.

Both the statutes of limitations and social perceptions that sexual-assault survivors should immediately report their experience is unreasonable and inconsiderate. It perpetuates blaming the victim in rape culture and wrongfully invalidates a person’s trauma and experience of sexual assault.

Survivors deserve justice, no matter how long it takes. 

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