Kansas Republican Governor Sam Brownback signed a law Monday that abolishes the state’s five-year statute of limitations on rape cases.
Kansas is currently one of only ten states that require a rape case to be prosecuted within five years of the incident, but the new law will make the state one of twenty that have no limit whatsoever on reporting a rape. Only three other crimes in the state have no statue of limitations, murder and two terrorism-related charges.
The bill grants victims of other sexual crimes up to ten years after turning 18 to report a crime. The expanded limit is intended to provide protection to victims who were molested or otherwise assaulted by a family member and are afraid to report the crime until they can safely move out of the home. The vast majority of sex crimes committed against children are performed by family members or other trusted adults with power over the victim.
While the bill had broad support, it remains to be seen if many cases will be prosecuted under the new law. It is still no easy endeavor to convince a jury that a defendant is guilty of rape.
“It won’t change the reality that evidence has to be there in order for a successful prosecution to be mounted,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt told The Wichita Eagle. “And the passage of time can weaken some types of evidence. But in cases where there is strong and endearing evidence, such as physical evidence, the law will now not create an arbitrary bar.”
The bill passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans. Supporters of the law assert that its passage will empower rape victims to take action. It sends a signal to those who may be too afraid to speak up, and rape victims say the law helps with their healing following a crime. For many, the moment when Governor Brownback’s pen erased statute of limitations on rape cases was both a clear victory and a sign of progress.