The New York Daily News published an op-ed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Julianne Moore urging the legislature to give rape victims more time to seek justice by lengthening N.Y.'s statute of limitations before the end of the legislative session.
Text of the op-ed is available below and can be viewed online here.
Last year, the Cuomo administration enacted the strongest and most comprehensive sexual harassment laws in the country. These laws banned companies from using mandatory arbitration provisions in employment contracts, ensured nondisclosure agreements only be used when it is the victim's preference, established minimum standards for sexual-harassment-prevention policies and training, created a sexual-assault survivor's bill of rights, and created tools to remove firearms from domestic abusers.
But thanks to New York's overly restrictive statute of limitations on rape in the second and third degree, countless sexual predators are able to escape indictment for many of their crimes.
In New York State, women who were assaulted often cannot bring charges because, in the harsh eyes of the law, they waited too long. Like many victims of sexual assault, these women waited to tell anyone about what happened until they finally felt "safe" — as safe as they'll ever feel — when other women began to speak openly about their own experiences facing predatory behavior.
Sexual violence most frequently occurs between people who know one another and is more often the result of coercion than forcible compulsion. In New York State, those situations are often considered rape in the second or third degree, and under current law, those rape victims have just five years to recover from and reconcile themselves to the damage wrought by their rapists before they lose the chance to achieve justice through the state's criminal justice system.
Right now, prosecutors cannot pursue a case of rape in the third degree if it took place more than five years earlier. Prosecutors can't even pursue a case of rape in the second degree — the crime of having sex with someone who does not have the ability to consent because of mental disability or incapacitation — if that crime took place more than five years earlier.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 51% of women who reported rape said that the assailant was an intimate partner. Forty percent said they were raped by an acquaintance. In 80% of cases, the victim knew the perpetrator, and nearly 10% of rapes occur while the victim is at work.
Only a handful of other states have statutes of limitation for second- and third-degree rape that are as short as New York's. Twenty states have no statutes of limitation at all and another 13 have statutes of limitation substantially longer than New York's, at 10 to 15 years.
Rape is the most under-reported crime in this country. Victims are understandably afraid to report their experiences to law enforcement, let alone tell family members, spouses and friends. The trademarks of sexual assault — shame, self-doubt and self-blame — make it especially difficult for victims to come forward. New York State's arcane and cruel statutes of limitations all but guarantee that assailants will benefit from the delayed reporting caused by the trauma and harm they inflict.
This status quo is appalling and destructive, and it needs to change.
Meantime, there is more we can and must do to strengthen New York's nation-leading workplace sexual harassment laws.
One proposal advanced by the Cuomo administration would make it easier for workers to bring legitimate claims against their employer by lowering the restrictive standard that say harassment needs to be "severe or pervasive" to be actionable.
Another would mandate that all non-disclosure agreements in employment contracts include specific language making clear that employees can still file a complaint with a state or local agency and testify or participate in a government investigation. This requirement will ensure such NDAs are not used to mislead victims about their rights or deter them from working with law enforcement.
Another would require employers to post a sexual harassment education poster in the workplace that is easy for everyone to see.
There are six days left in this year's legislative session. Legislators need to move quickly to eliminate the statute of limitations for rape in the second and third degree, and pass the rest of these workplace harassment measures to ensure workplaces are safe environments for everyone.
Moore, an actor, is part of TIME'S UP, the anti-sexual harassment organization. Cuomo is governor of New York.