Senate advances bill to increase time to report sex offenses

BY MICHELLE PARENTE

(CNS) – A key Virginia Senate committee passed a bill that increases the statute of limitations for misdemeanor sexual offenses where the victim is a minor and the act was consentual, from one to five years. 

Senate Bill 227 was filed on Jan. 10, and that same day, the bill was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. It  passed there 14-0, with one abstention and referred to the Finance and Appropriations Committee. 

The bill was proposed by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg. The bill proposes that prosecution of a misdemeanor, defined as consensual intercourse with a minor age 15 or older at the time of the offense, must be commenced no later than one year after the victim reaches majority. 

But, provided that the alleged adult offender is more than three years older than the victim at the time of the offense, the statute of limitations would be increased to five years, under the proposed legislation. 

Under the current law, the prosecution of such offense must start within one year after the act of the proposed misdemeanor. 

During the Jan. 26 committee meeting, Obenshain said: “This bill deals with statute of limitations in cases involving consentual sex with a minor, and these are misdemeanor charges. We extend the statute of limitations involving crimes against minors, involving lawsuits, involving sexual abuse of minors and this extends it just after they turn 18.”

Alycia Eldridge, senior assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Rockingham County, offered her support of the bill. Obenshain called upon Eldridge for a specific case in which this bill would be highly valuable to juvenile victims. 

In one investigation, where the child victim was 15 and the male offender was in his later 30s, the incident went unreported until the child was almost 17 — more than a year after the last offense, Eldridge said. “I wasn’t able to charge that offender because of the lapse in the one year statute of limitations.” 

Delays in reporting sexual crimes involving under-age victims are incredibly common for a variety of reasons. Eldridge said that victims may view adult offenders as potential romantic partners, fear becoming blamed themselves or may disclose to a trusted adult who doesn’t take action or even suppresses the disclosure or an investigation. 

“In these types of cases, where the victims have so little power already, this extension of the statute of limitations would put at least the power to report their crimes back in the hands of the victims,” she said. 

During the discussion, the bill received some reluctance from Sen. Creigh Deeds. 

“This is very similar to a bill, or it might be the same bill, that I introduced two or three times about 10 years ago and it usually made it out of this committee, but not out of the finance committee,” Deeds said. 

While SB 227 was re-referred to finance, Obenshain responded with his expectation for the bill. 

“Well this is a misdemeanor, so hopefully it won’t encounter some of the challenges that a felony would have,” Obenshain said. 

Finally, Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Henrico, who later abstained, questioned the statute extension in the case Eldridge had previously detailed. 

“Why are we extending the statute of limitations for five years, if in that situation it could be only a year, why is it not two?” Morrissey said. 

In response, Obenshain explained that a five year statute is the law for other offenses against minors, “this simply makes it consistent,” he said. 

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