Although it’s received increased attention lately in American media and culture, following the Stanford University case, sexual assault remains one of the more under-reported crimes in our system. Experts have found that somewhere between one-sixth and one-third of these crimes are ever reported to police, which explains why only about six out of every 1,000 alleged perpetrators of these crimes end up in jail.
The reasons for such under-reporting are varied. The victim might fear for her future safety. (The use of feminine pronouns in this context reflects the fact that while men can be the victims of sexual assault, it’s far more likely to happen to women.) She might believe that law enforcement will do little to investigate her claim. She may be too traumatized to willingly undergo the humiliating and invasive examinations that occur when such a claim is filed. Or she may be close enough to her attacker—about 80 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows—that reporting such an incident will create even more complications.
In Colorado, the statute of limitations on sexual assault charges has been 10 years, limiting the time period in which victims can report incidents, and thus further burying past crimes. Now that’s going to change. On June 10, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill doubling the statute of limitations on sexual assault cases in Colorado to 20 years.
The impetus behind the bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support in both state chambers, were two Coloradans who are part of the 50-plus women who have accused comedian Bill Cosby of raping them. Nevada passed a similar law last year, and Californians are debating whether to entirely eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual assault, which would make it more commensurate with other violent crimes, such as murder or kidnapping.
Even though the newly implemented 20-year limit won’t help the Colorado women who Cosby allegedly assaulted several decades ago (or more), it’s a positive step toward eliminating—and shedding much-needed light upon—one of our culture’s most insidiously and tragically unaddressed problems.