Sexual Assault by the Clergy and the Statute of Limitations
With sexual abuse scandals rocking both the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, it seems clear that both religious organizations are ineffective in policing themselves when it comes to abuses by its priests and ministers. In far too many cases, church leadership either failed to report abuses to authorities or actively concealed heinous crimes. In these situations, by the time law enforcement finds out they may be unable to prosecute due to the passage of the statute of limitations. A new proposed bill is looking to solve the problem and if it is passed it could extend the time for prosecutors to charge sexual predators.
Crimes by the Clergy
In August of last year, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a 1356 page report that uncovered 300 predator priests in the state. The report went through church documents that extended back to the 1960s and also estimated that at least 1,000 children were victimized.
Then in February of this year, the Houston Chronicle came out with a damning report that ministers in the Southern Baptist Church had also used their positions to victimize 700 people, many of which were children. Since 1998, approximately 380 church leaders were found to have faced allegations of sexual misconduct according to the paper.
What is troubling about many of these reports is the ensuing cover up by the church administration. In the case of the Southern Baptist, about 220 people were prosecuted and either plead or were convicted. But many of those accused were simply transferred to other churches and the allegations against them were never reported to the police. The Catholic Church in Pittsburgh was even more egregious since many of the allegations have not come to light until now and with the majority of the 300 priests identified never being prosecuted at all.
Can You Still Prosecute for Old Crimes?
With the release of both reports only now shedding light on crimes that may have been committed decades ago, many in the public are wondering whether the abusers will face prosecution at all. Criminal statute of limitations are rather long but would they be long enough to prosecute someone who committed a crime 50+ years ago?
In Texas, sexual assault has a statute of limitations of 10 years from the date of the commission of the crime. There is an exception for people that sexually abuse children, a sexual assault on a child has an unlimited statute of limitations in Texas. That does leave other victims out in the cold, especially those too ashamed or afraid to come forward with their stories of abuse until it is too late to prosecute their abuser.
A new law is being proposed in Texas that would extend the time for prosecutors to file charges against sexual abusers for other victims besides children. Senate Bill (S.B.) 735 would toll the statute of limitations for all sexual assaults if biological material is collected from the investigation until all of the people whose biological material was obtained have been identified.
That means if a person is sexually assaulted and biological samples such as blood, saliva, semen, or hair are collected, then the 10 year statute of limitations does not begin to run until all the samples are matched with an identifiable person.
Victims would still need to contact law enforcement as soon as possible so that police can investigate and bring in a rape kit if necessary to collect samples. This assuredly would still be distressing but as long as biological material of the abuser is obtained, assault victims will be able to know their abuser will not be able to use time to escape prosecution in Texas.