During the last year or so, the #MeToo movement has empowered scores of people to come forward with long-buried allegations of sexual assault. Because most states have statutes of limitations for crimes other than murder, though, victims’ attempts to find justice have often been stymied.
In Florida, the statute of limitations for most sexual assault cases is just four years.
But now, a newly elected state representative wants to remove that limit for felony sexual assault. Adam Hattersley, a Democrat from Hillsborough County who campaigned in part on issues raised by #MeToo, proposed the “Me Too No More” Act as his first bill. It would also require special training for sexual assault victims.
“The more I looked into it, the more I recognized how ridiculous our current statutes are,” Hattersley says.
The time limit for prosecution is complicated in Florida. It depends on a long list of factors including the age of the victim, whether physical force was used, whether the victim was injured, and when the crime was first reported. For a case involving an adult victim and the use of force, that’s four years. For one involving an adult victim and no threats or use of force, it’s generally three years.
Across the country, there’s been a movement to expand or eliminate statutes of limitations on sex crimes. Legislators have often cited the #MeToo movement in pushing such legislation, according to research from Pew Charitable Trusts.
These measures are controversial, though. Civil liberties groups have argued that statutes of limitations lower the likelihood of wrongful conviction, pointing out it’s much more difficult to produce evidence years after an alleged crime.
But proponents say the statutes are archaic and ignore the lingering effects of trauma. “I did a tour in Iraq, and PTSD can really bottle you up for several years,” says Hattersley, a Navy veteran. “And it can take a long time for someone to come to grips with it.”
Ten states — California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming — now have no time limit for filing charges on all or nearly all felony sexual assault cases, according to the New York Times Magazine.
In Florida, two other bills address the statute of limitations for sex crimes. Senate Bill 130 would remove the time limit for sexual battery if the victim was under age 18 at the time of the crime. House Bill 83 would lengthen the time frame for prosecution to 15 years for sexual battery.
Hattersley’s proposal is the most expansive. “It brings us into the modern world, I think, of giving people a chance to have that closure and have that justice,” he says.