CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Vars on Trauma and Sexual Assault Statutes of Limitations

Fredrick E. Vars (University of Alabama - School of Law) has posted Time to Heal: Trauma's Impact on Rape & Sexual Assault Statutes of Limitations (Texas A&M Law Review (forthcoming)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Short statutes of limitations for sex crimes ask the impossible of many victims: report the crime before they have recovered from the trauma. Perpetrators go free as a direct result of the injury they caused. Nearly a third of victims of rape and sexual assault have PTSD during their lifetimes. PTSD is associated with three symptoms pertinent to reporting a crime: avoidance coping (avoiding distressing thoughts, feelings, or reminders of the attack), dissociative amnesia (forgetting important or all aspects of the attack), and depression. These symptoms all affect a victim’s psychological ability to report a crime before a short statute of limitations runs.

This Article summarizes the current state of statute of limitations across the country for rape, forcible rape, and sexual assault. In many states, the statute of limitations is shockingly short. No state tolls limitations periods for trauma-induced reporting delay, but every state should. In fact, given the rates of PTSD among victims and the associated symptoms, this Article advocates for extending statutes of limitations in all cases to ten years for rape and sexual assault and abolishing it for forcible rape. These changes will give victims more time to heal from the trauma inflicted on them, allowing victims to report when they are ready, and it will help ensure their attackers will not escape punishment because of the trauma they inflicted.

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