Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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In D.C., the statute of limitations for prosecuting most sexual abuse cases is 15 years, but a new bill that passed its first vote on Tuesday would eliminate that statute of limitations.

The Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Elimination Amendment Act of 2017, which Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced last year with co-sponsoring Councilmembers Brandon Todd (Ward 4), David Grosso (At-Large), Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), and Robert White (At-Large), would allow victims to come forward at any time. That means that if a survivor of sexual assault in the ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s is finally ready to report their assault, it could still be prosecuted.

Currently, the statute of limitations in the District is 15 years for first- and second-degree sexual abuse, as well as child sexual abuse (that 15-year timeframe applies up until the survivor turns 21), and 10 years for all other sex offenses. The bill passed its first vote 12-1, with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson as the sole dissenter.

“I think that there’s a very delicate balance in the criminal justice system ensuring there is justice,” said Mendelson from the dais, moments before the vote. “The Council has worked on this over the years, and I think we’ve found the right balance.” Mendelson was referring to the Felony Sexual Assault Statute of Limitations Amendment Act of 2004, the current statute of limitations law, which then-Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson introduced. 

Prior to the vote, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, explained how this bill affects him personally. “When I was younger… we had a sexual predator who led my boy scout troop,” he said. “I vividly remember the night my best friend came forward to tell me he was sexually abused … I remember vividly telling adults and they did not believe me. They found out he abused more than 40 victims over two decades.”

In comments from the dais expressing her support, Nadeau said that this bill “hits close to home in other ways,” referencing the recent allegations of sex abuse committed by a pastor at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

Mendelson isn’t alone in opposing of the bill. During a public hearing for the bill in June, ACLU of DC executive director Monica Hopkins testified against it, citing concerns of due process. “The current statute of limitations law protects the accused, especially the falsely accused, of charges that could devastate lives,” she said during the hearing, Washingtonian reported at the time

A second and final vote for the bill is scheduled for the Council’s next legislative meeting on Dec. 4.