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DeWine, AG seek to eliminate statute of limitations on rape

By BRANDON ADDEO • Jun 14, 2019 at 2:00 PM

If he were alive today, former Ohio State doctor Richard Strauss likely wouldn’t be prosecuted for sexually abusing more than 110 people between 1978 and 1998.

That’s because his crimes fall outside the state’s statute of limitations on sex charges. But Ohio’s governor and attorney general said they want that to change.

“Anything that opens the doors of justice to empower victims of sexual assault to come forward is a positive step for Ohioans. We support Gov. (Mike) DeWine’s efforts to break down the barriers that have kept sexual assault victims silent,” said Linda Border, executive director of the Huron County victims assistance program.

On May 20, DeWine called on the state legislature to eliminate Ohio’s 20-to 25-year statute of limitations on prosecuting rapes. He also asked the general assembly to have hearings on changing the statutes on other felony sex crimes, which are typically fewer than 10 years.

DeWine’s call came following the release of a report into Strauss’ 20 years of sexual misconduct at Ohio State.

Attorney General Dave Yost, joined by five former Ohio attorneys general, echoed DeWine’s remarks in a letter sent to the Ohio Senate president and Ohio House speaker.

In the letter, the attorney generals pointed out how Ohio has no statute of limitations on homicide and said rape should be treated the same way.

Yost explained further at a recent press conference.

“We believe that homicide and rape have a lot in common in the sense that they are grievous offenses,” he said. “The seriousness of it warrants the long arm of the state to go past limitations in time.

Yost continued: “I don’t think that a rapist ought to be able to run out the clock on justice.”


Area reaction

Sarah Reynolds, director of Erie County’s victim assistance program, said eliminating the statute would be beneficial for victims of rape.

Reynolds said delays in rape reporting are common, especially with child victims.

“It would give more opportunities for victims to come forward and have cases prosecuted,” she said.

Reynolds said she’s seen the impact of the statute of limitations firsthand.

“I know multiple cases we’ve had where we had an offender and we found out after the fact they’d assaulted individuals years ago. … The victims never came forward and when they did it was outside the (statute of limitations),” she said.

Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth also talked about the effect the statute can have on victims.

“Especially when you have a young child raped, and as an adult they finally come forward to report it and they’re told, ‘sorry, statute of limitations,’” he said.

Sigsworth said he’d support eliminating the rape statute.

“Make no mistake about this, rape is a very violent crime,” he said. “We should not limit prosecution for a crime like rape.”


Legislators’ thoughts

The letter from Yost and former attorney generals was addressed to Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof and Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.

Peter Fortney, press secretary for the Ohio Senate’s Majority Caucus, provided this statement: “We supported expedited testing of the rape kit backlog and if and when legislation is presented, our members will have a thorough discussion about it.”

A spokesperson for Speaker Householder declined to comment.

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