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Statute of Limitations on Rape by a Clergy Member

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Sexual abuse survivors suffer not just from the initial assault, but immediate and long-lasting emotional and psychological trauma. The news has been filled with survivors of child sexual abuse coming forward, many of them feeling empowered by the #MeToo movement that has become an umbrella for multiple modes of justice.

However, one of the main questions people have is – can the perpetrator be held criminally liable?

There are laws that determine the time frame that a person can face criminal charges for a crime. These are called the statute of limitations, and they vary state-by-state.

Does California Have a Statute of Limitations on Rape?

California has eliminated the statute of limitations for prosecuting rape cases. States across the country have grappled with how to handle allegations of child sex abuse by members of the clergy, but that was not the final straw that broke for the law to change in California. Shortly after comedian Bill Cosby accusers came forward about sexual assaults in the past, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that ended the statute of limitations on rape cases.

The bill stated “Existing law generally requires that the prosecution of a felony sex offense be commenced within 10 years after the commission of the offense.” As the LA Times reported that exceptions can be made if “new DNA evidence emerges later.”

Previous California Law

Under the old law, prosecution of felony sex offenses against minors had to begin before the survivors 40th birthday. That has now changed, and the text of the bills reads that “the prosecution of rape, sodomy, lewd or lascivious acts, continuous sexual abuse of a child, oral copulation, and sexual penetration, that are committed under certain circumstances, as specified, to be commenced at any time.”

The new law will apply only to crimes committed after Jan. 1, 2017. Crimes that were committed before that date are still subject to the old laws in California.

What is the Punishment for Rape of a Minor in California?

The punishment for rape of a minor in California varies based on the age of the survivor:

  • If the child is under the age of 14, the rape is punishable by imprisonment in state prison for 9, 11, or 13 years.
  • If the child is over 14 years of age, the rape is punishable by imprisonment in state prison or 7, 9, or 11 years.

Punishment for other sex crimes against minors varies, again depending on the severity of the charge and the age of the survivor.

The Statutes of Limitations Matter

Statistics show that around one out of every 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. This includes:

  • One out of every seven girls
  • One out of every twenty-five boys

When we look at the statistics, we know that most of the survivors of sex abuse knew their perpetrator. Only around 20% of rapes are committed by a stranger. When we look at sex abuse of a minor, that drops to about 10%. All too often, we find that children are abused by the people they trust the most. If you or a loved one are a survivor of sexual abuse and would like to explore your legal options in the civil system, contact a personal injury lawyer to learn more.