Excellent news out of Washington State for rape survivors and prosecutors. In a case where an accused person has alleged prior victims, those prior victims can testify during trials in order to help establish a pattern of abuse, even when the statute of limitations has expired for that particular crime.
Before, prosecutors could raise a defendant’s alleged sexual-offense history under very narrow circumstances under a law covering all past criminal history. The new law addresses sexual offenses separately and broadens the guidelines for allowing evidence into trial.
The change will help prosecute and convict sexual offenders, legal observers and victims’ advocates predict.
“It makes a huge difference,” said Mary Ellen Stone, director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. The issue of admissibility of the commission of past sexual offenses was part of the resource center’s legislative agenda, and Stone and her staff helped advocate for the change in Olympia.
Sometimes, Stone said, victims of rape and molestation do not have significant physical evidence of the abuse — perhaps too much time expired before the assault was reported, or the type of assault did not leave much physical evidence. The problem can be magnified in the case of children, who are often “groomed” by the offender for years and subject to nonviolent molestation such as grabbing, touching or rubbing.
Evidence of a pattern of abuse over years can be critical in a prosecution, Stone said.
“Having this other person or people say, ‘This happened to me too, in the same kind of way,’ can absolutely increase convictions,” she said. “Juries can see, ‘Oh, there’s a pattern, he’s done this before.’ It can combat the idea that they can’t convict an 80-year-old guy. Because now they can see he’s been doing this for the past 40 years.”
Interestingly enough, the Seattle Times article presents the new law as a positive thing, and doesn’t include quotes form MRAs whining that Evil Lying Women will now more easily put Good Innocent Men in jail. (Of course, I don’t even have to check to know that they’re ranting about it somewhere online.) Good for them. With the judge ruling upon the relevance of the testimony prior to its admission in court — which he or she does — and juries knowing that the accused has not been convicted of the other alleged crimes, I see no travesty of justice here. I see only a real respect for the right of victims to speak and a desire to actually put rapists to justice. As someone who believes — perhaps on a very strong hunch more than anything — that most rapists have or will rape more than once, I’m thrilled at this new prosecutorial tool. I’d like to see it all over the country.
If this new law sends chills down the spines of serial rapists who thought their victims from years past had been legally silenced forever, I’m thrilled. Victims who were originally seen as non-credible — or like me didn’t consider reporting until it was too late — may be able to help stop serial rapists.
If a conviction doesn’t stop these rapists then the prospect of all of their previous victims testifying against them at the next trial may cause some of these predators to decide to stop before their luck at evading justice runs out.
She also notes if she found out her own rapist was on trial for more sexual abuse, she would absolutely volunteer to fly to Washington and testify against him. If such a law were ever passed in NY and I were given the opportunity, I can safely say the same. Like many, many other victims, I was too fucked up, confused, afraid, and full of the belief that I was to blame to press charges. But given a second chance such as this, I would in a heartbeat do anything I could to lock his ass up in jail and stop him from hurting anyone else. And I know that Marcella and I are not the only survivors who feel that way.
Good for you, Washington State. For this, you have my deepest respect.