With the new year kicking off, the media is buzzing with stories surrounding new Illinois laws, the most popular being the legalization of recreational marijuana. However, in another important change made as of Jan. 1, the statute of limitations for major sex crimes was removed in Illinois. 

Essentially, there is no longer a time frame in which survivors can choose to prosecute criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual assault or aggravated criminal sexual abuse. As the law’s synopsis states, victims previously had to come forward to law enforcement within three years of the alleged offense, and prosecutors had 10 years to charge the alleged perpetrator(s). 

In the wake of this new legislation, The Alestle sat down with Jamie Ball, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity, Access and Title IX Coordination, to discuss HB2135. Here are some of the main takeaways: 

 

Statutes of limitations may not always be reasonable. 

“The notion, as I learned it as a law student, is you can’t sit on your rights,” Ball said. “It’s the notion that you can’t let your claim go stale. So there’s a certain logic in that, you want people to be timely in their response to pursuing their legal rights, especially in most instances. But it doesn’t match the reality of experiences of crime victims in every instance.” 

 

This legislation helps survivors seek justice without being confined to a timetable. 

“It’s a complex experience and I certainly could not speak for every person, but my general sense … is a lot of times there’s maybe some confusion about what the experience was … [and] I think there’s kind of a defense mechanism that occurs where a person will try to rationalize or explain away an event as something they shouldn’t want or need to pursue through the criminal justice system,” Ball said. “Sometimes people are dealing with the immediacy of trauma, [such as] physical injuries and self-care that’s necessitated by an event like a sexual assault — it just takes priority and there’s a limited amount of bandwidth a person has.” 

 

There may also be cultural pressures not to come forward. 

“I think there are also cultural things,” Ball said. “People are shamed; It’s not easy to come forward. You subject yourself to scrutiny in some situations, so the idea of coming to grips with that and being mentally and emotionally prepared to deal with that aspect of a criminal prosecution, I think, also sometimes leads to folks hesitating or waiting to be ready to participate in that kind of process.” 

 

While there are many positives to come from HB2135, it also has struck up controversy.

“There are lots of civil liberties groups who are concerned about the extension of the statute of limitations because sometimes the prosecution of cases — of any kind of case — becomes more difficult the more remote in time from the event [for which] that prosecution is occurring,” Ball said. “Evidence is less accessible sometimes and sometimes recollections aren’t as clear, so that sometimes makes things difficult in terms of how a prosecution might actually move forward or how an investigation might move forward. So it’s certainly not without difficulty or controversy, but I think preserving the right to move forward with requesting an investigation or a prosecution of a crime, I think ultimately that’s a good thing in that there should never be a time where it’s too late for justice if it can be achieved.” 

 

Political pressure cannot be ignored in the debate.

“Some of the criticism I’ve read relates to the idea that even in cases where the evidence is not very strong or available anymore because of the incident’s remoteness in time, there will still be political pressure on prosecutors to bring cases forward because there’s a louder conversation about victim’s rights and the need for criminal prosecutors to be more responsive — and in some cases aggressive — in pursuing the prosecutions in sexual assault cases,” Ball said. “Criminal prosecutions are influenced by the political landscape of the communities in which those prosecutions are occurring.”

 

SIUE policy doesn’t necessarily abide by a statute of limitations.

 “We don’t have a strict statute of limitations per se,” Ball said. “Our policy does contemplate that we would encourage folks to come forward with their complaints as near in time to the incident as possible, but it does allow for the extension of inquiry into situations that are relatively remote in time in certain circumstances. So, everything is case-by-case.”

 

To view the full text of HB2135, visit Illinois General Assembly’s website.

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