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No time limit for reporting childhood sexual assault in Washington

caption: A example of a box of rape evidence, stock photo from Washington State Patrol
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A example of a box of rape evidence, stock photo from Washington State Patrol
Courtesy of Washington State Patrol

Victims of sexual assault in Washington state now have far more time to report the crimes committed against them.

That’s after big changes to the statute of limitations on sexual assault went into effect Sunday.

The new law removed the time limit for crimes against people younger than 16. Victims 16 and older when the crime is committed now have up to 10 to 20 years to report it, depending on the severity of the assault.

“It's part of a shift that says it takes time for people to come forward,” said Mary Ellen Stone, with the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. “The more we can encourage people to come forward, the better.”

“Whether that in the long run results in a lot more victims coming forward, we're just going to have wait and see.”

Previously, survivors of childhood sex abuse had just three years after their 18th birthday, or after discovery of the harms of their abuse, to bring a civil case.

King County Sexual Assault Resource Center
Hotline for therapy, legal advocates and family services: (888) 998-6423
UW Medicine Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress
Hotline, resources including counseling and medical care: (206) 744-1600
Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs
List of providers across the state that offer free services.
Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN)
Hotline and/or online chat with trained staff: (800) 656-4673
YWCA Sexual Violence Legal Services
Legal line for sexual assault survivors to speak to an attorney to discuss legal options and rights in Washington: 844-999-7857

The new law also means that survivors of third-degree rape no longer have to prove that they repeatedly said "no" to their attackers.

Advocates say that without a clear lack of consent observed by witnesses, prosecutors have been reluctant to bring cases.

But the changes passed during the last legislative session are not retroactive. Crimes committed before now are covered under the old limits.

While Stone applauds the new law, she says more needs to be done to assure victims it's worth coming forward.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network found only 23 percent of rapes are reported, and Stone said that's in part because conviction rates are so low.

“So you end up with just 1 percent of sexual assaults where the person charged actually ends up serving time,” said Stone.

But Stone said she's hopeful the new law will empower victims by showing them the system is changing in their favor.

She also commended lawmakers for working to help eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits during the last legislative session.

“If you look at that as a whole this session stands out as one of the most productive, most impactful, when it comes to responding to victims of sexual assault in our state," she said.

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