(WOMENSENEWS)– Rape survivors Danielle Tudor and Brenda Tracy are lobbying for two bills heading into the Oregon state Legislature. Both bills would extend Oregon‘s statute of limitations to 20 years, from six, on rape charges in the absence of DNA evidence.
The Oregon Defense Lawyers Association is working against any extension of the current six-year limit.
Tracy and Tudor believe that a longer deadline will encourage other victims to report rape, knowing they have breathing room before going to court. The two women’s efforts are reverberating in other states. For example, right now Ohio has a 20-year statute of limitations, but at least one lawmaker wants to eliminate the deadline entirely. Utah‘s Legislature plans to extend its statute of limitations on sexual abuse of minors.
However, in Oregon, some legislators have expressed concern about the state’s already-tight budget and whether it would cover indefinite storage of evidence in rape cases. (Tracy also is working on a bill to forbid destruction of evidence before the statute of limitations expires.)
The Senate’s bill is co-sponsored by Chair Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, chair of the House judiciary committee. Both bills will be considered during the legislature’s current session, which runs through the end of June, possibly longer.
Although Oregon has a progressive reputation, its current statute of limitations for such rape cases is among the shortest in the U.S.
In 2009, Tudor lobbied the state legislature successfully to eliminate any statute of limitations for rape with DNA evidence.
She was unaware until afterwards that her rape kit contained no DNA. Then Tudor read about another rape survivor for whom the issue is personal. Last year, in a series in The Oregonian, Tracy made public her brutal gang rape in Corvallis, Ore., in 1998. Tudor was shocked, she says, when she read that the statute of limitations on rape cases without DNA was only six years
Because Oregon‘s time limit was so short, she had never been able to receive justice, "even though I had done everything right."
In 1979, barely 17 years old and a virgin, Tudor was raped and severely beaten in her own home in Portland, Ore., by Richard Troy Gillmore, the city’s notorious serial Jogger Rapist. Nine young women, including Tudor, had reported his attacks to the police and undergone the intrusive examinations for the collection of DNA evidence into so-called rape kits.
However, Gillmore cleverly avoided leaving any DNA at the scenes of his assaults. He also dodged arrest long enough so that the statute of limitations on all but one of his rapes had run out.
Once Gillmore was apprehended, he could be prosecuted in 1987 for a single rape – not Tudor’s.
"Law enforcement and prosecutors did the best they could," Tudor said. "The system didn’t fail me. The statute of limitations did."
Like Tudor, Tracy had gone to the police and had submitted to an examination for a rape kit at a Corvallis hospital.
Her four attackers, two of them football players at Oregon State University, were arrested and implicated each other.
But the aftermath of Tracy’s attack was simply too much for her to go to court. A single mother living on welfare and caring for two preschool boys, she had to endure anonymous phone calls threatening death to her and her sons. Friends and university football fans in Corvallis turned against her.
"My name didn’t appear in the papers," Tracy recalls, "but everyone knew I was the victim." She knew the men who had attacked her and they had drugged her, so she wasn’t sure she could recall every detail on the witness stand. Isolated and ashamed, she felt forced to drop charges.
Today, with an undergraduate degree in nursing and an M.B.A. in health care management, Tracy does feel strong enough to go to court, and says she certainly would if she could.
But two years after she dropped charges, the local district attorney destroyed all the evidence in her case. Without DNA evidence, the statute of limitations on her charges ran out in 2004.
In 2006, then-New York Count District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau lobbied successfully to eliminate New York’s five-year statute of limitations on rape, not hesitating to yell "bullshit!" at the opposition. Morgenthau told Women’s eNews, "After murder, the crime that causes the most permanent damage to the victim is a rape." A short statute of limitations, he added, tells a rapist that after a few years, "you can forget about it, even though the victim never can forget about it."
In The Oregonian’s 2014 series about Tracy, state Senate Chair Courtney said that Oregon‘s statute of limitations had to change. Tudor invited Tracy to lobby with her.
Originally, like Morgenthau, Tracy and Tudor pressed Oregon lawmakers to eliminate the statute of limitations for rape charges without DNA. They argued that Oregon had a chance to redeem its reputation by joining more than half of all states, including New York, which have no such statute of limitations.
For updates on Oregon, follow Danielle Tudor on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DanielleTudorActivist, and read her blog on Tumblr https://www.tumblr.com/register/follow/danielletudorbookproject
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