Laura Stearns was sexually assaulted twice by age 15, but could not even begin to talk about those horrible experiences until she was in her 30s and in therapy. It was only when she reached her 40s that she was finally able to tell her husband.
“Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it takes a really long time,” she told the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division Wednesday.
Prosecution of Stearns’ perpetrators was no longer possible due to Minnesota’s statute of limitations for criminal sexual conduct offenses.
Sponsored by Rep. Aisha Gomez (DFL-Mpls), HF734 would provide more time for future sexual assault victims to seek justice by eliminating the existing statute of limitations for sex trafficking and first-, second-, third- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct offenses.
The bill was laid over by the division for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF731, is sponsored by Sen. Dan Hall (R-Burnsville) and is awaiting action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.
Depending on several factors, such as the age of the victim and whether DNA evidence was collected at the time of the assault, the current statutes of limitations are three years, nine years or no time limits for prosecution.
DeVonna Pittman testified that victims of sexual assault, especially young victims, are often “psychologically paralyzed” by the trauma of the assault. They need a lot of time to process the experience and many cannot come forward about their assault within the time limits imposed by current law.
Pittman can relate. She was sexually assaulted in pre-school, but was not able to talk about it until she was 32.
Victims of sexual assault are “shrouded in confusion, and fear, and shame — which silences us,” said Stearns.
She added that perpetrators of sexual assault know this and they use it to their advantage.
“The system as it exists is slanted in the favor of the people who perpetrate sexual crimes. As our understanding of how victims are affected evolves, we need to evolve the laws as well to give the victims of these crimes the gift of time.”