Liberal Column

NY state gives survivors of sexual assault a vital voice

Sarah Allam | Illustration Editor

By extending the statute of limitations of these crimes, victims are more likely to come forward and bring justice against sexual predators.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are victims of sexual assault or harassment. The National Crime Victimization Survey estimated that more than 430,000 cases of sexual assault and harassment were not reported to police in 2015 alone.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, continuing his push to bring justice for some of these victims in New York, recently signed into law a bill that extends the statute of limitations for second and third degree sexual assault from five years to 20 and 10 years, respectively. This bill is a big step in the right direction and a victory for victim’s rights activists across the state.

“A lot of the laws on the books, especially as they relate to sex crimes or sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace, are outdated,” said State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-NY), who sponsored the bill. “Extending the statute of limitations for specific degrees of rape and sexual assault and incest gives survivors the time they need to process what has happened, to report it. Most people don’t come forward about their abuse until they’re 51 or 52,” Biaggi said.

By extending the statute of limitations of these crimes, victims are more likely to come forward and bring justice against sexual predators. Many men and women who are victims of sexual assault choose not to report the crime to police, many out of fear of retaliation in their workplace or at home, or of not being believed.

“This new law recognizes the injustice that has gone on for far too long and honors all the women who have suffered this pain and all the advocates who had the courage to come forward and tell their story so that other women may be spared the pain,” Cuomo said when he signed the bill.

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Biaggi originally wanted to completely eliminate the statute of limitations for all sex crimes, but landed at extending them due to compromise in passing the legislation. She said though it’s a start, the work isn’t done yet.

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Karleigh Merritt-Henry | Digital Design Editor

National social movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up, focusing on combatting sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, have pushed for similar legislation in dozens of states across the country. When Cuomo signed the bill in Albany, he was flanked by a group of spokeswomen for the Time’s Up movement, including actresses Julianne Moore, Mira Sorvino, Amber Tamblyn and Michelle Hurd.

This legislation sets a high bar for the rest of the country to follow, in addition to the Child Victims Act passed in February. The Child Victims Act extends the period of time when victims of sexual abuse as children can sue and press charges against their abusers. Arizona has the shortest statute of limitations for sexual assault in the country at only three years. Six states have also eliminated the statute of limitations for sexual assault entirely.

Biaggi is also working on bills to formally make sexual harassment a crime in New York state, and to create a sexual harassment hotline.

“That is one of the best things that we can do for people that feel that they really don’t have anywhere to go, because so much of what’s around that crime is silence and shame, and when you feel like there’s not even an outlet for you, you are more likely to stay silent,” Biaggi said.

For every person that ends a tweet with #MeToo, or shows support for Time’s Up, there is one who believes that these men women should just be quiet and forget the past. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women are raped in their lifetimes, and one in five are victims of sexual assault in college. That number is about one in six for men. According to the same study, 90% of victims on college campuses do not report the incident.

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Karleigh Merritt-Henry | Digital Design Editor

Syracuse University is no stranger to sexual assault controversies. According to SU’s Annual Security Report, there were 35 rapes on campus between 2016 and 2018. There were 24 instances of dating violence on campus in the same time period — and those numbers just account for assaults that were reported.

Thousands of people around New York, including college students, can now come forward with their stories to authorities more easily. Thanks to New York Democrats like Sen. Biaggi and Gov. Cuomo, these men and women have more time to tell their stories and find the justice that every victim deserves.

Nick Robertson is a freshman news and online journalism and policy studies major. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at [email protected]. He can be followed on Twitter at @NickRobertsonSU.







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