Ohio lawmakers should update state’s antiquated laws against sexual abuse

A report released by The Ohio State University which found that a former school doctor had sexually abused more than 177 male student-athletes has added pressure on state lawmakers to reform Ohio’s laws against sexual abuse.

Since news broke of the late doctor’s widespread abuse, high-profile Republican leaders in Ohio, including Governor DeWine and Attorney General Yost, have voiced support to end the statute of limitations on rape. It’s about time!

Ohio currently has one of the nation’s strictest statute of limitations for sex crimes, which requires a survivor or victim to file charges against their abuser within 25 years of the crime. However, DNA evidence can be preserved for many decades with today’s forensic technology, meaning that the “validity of evidence” should no longer force a limit on the amount of time a victim or survivor has to seek justice. Applying a statute of limitations to these crimes also disregards the countless personal reasons that survivors of sexual assault may wait to press charges against their perpetrators.

We applaud the Republican leaders who are now calling for eliminating the statute of limitations on rape, but can’t help but wonder: why now?

Democratic lawmakers have been pushing bills to end the statute of limitations on rape for years, with very little support from their colleagues across the aisle. Amid that process, the voices and stories of many women who are victims or survivors of sexual abuse have been ignored, criticized, or questioned. Women are often asked why they didn’t choose to share their stories earlier, and the validity of their accusations is often called into question. In contrast, when men wait to share their story (which every survivor is 100% entitled to do), it does not dampen the urgency for action from political leaders. Enough is enough.

Both men and women deserve to have their stories believed by the public, regardless of how long they wait to come forward or seek justice.

There are currently bills pending in the Ohio Legislature that would achieve the goal of eliminating the statute of limitations on rape in Ohio, while also modernizing another section of the state code for cases of rape. House Bill 279, legislation introduced by Representatives Boggs (D-18) and Galonski (D-35) with bipartisan support, aims to end the statute of limitations on rape and close the marital rape loophole. Senators Nickie J. Antonio (D-23) and Sean O’Brien (D-32) recently introduced a bipartisan companion bill in the Ohio Senate that would accomplish the same ends. Senate Bill 162 currently has two Republican cosponsors.

Because of the outdated way that current Ohio law classifies rape and sexual assault differently for married couples, there are still certain circumstances, if there is no proof that there was “force or threat of force,” where there are no legal options to prosecute the crime if a couple is married or living together. Ohio’s “marital exemption” for rape is rooted in victim blaming culture and only reinforces the misguided and out-of-touch belief that married women are the property of their husbands.

If Republican leaders are serious about protecting victims and survivors of sexual abuse and rape in Ohio, they should focus their efforts on passing House Bill 279 or Senate Bill 162. It is about time political leaders listen to the stories of all victims and fix our state’s antiquated laws against sexual abuse and rape.