The felony charges filed against Bill Cosby this week stem from an alleged assault on Jan. 15, 2004, in Pennsylvania. And the timing was no accident: The statute of limitations for rape in the state is 12 years, meaning prosecutors had to move soon or drop the case forever. That deadline raises a fundamental question, writes lawyer Jill Filipovic in the New York Times: "Why is there a statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault at all?" Proponents might cite factors such as deteriorating evidence or the desire to have victims report crimes quickly. Such arguments make sense "in theory," but they do more harm than good in the case of rape.
For one thing, "most sexual assault survivors don’t report the crime right away, especially if the perpetrator is someone they know—which applies in about four-fifths of cases," writes Filipovic. And, unfortunately, it sometimes takes multiple allegations against a suspect to bring about a thorough investigation. A total of 34 states have statutes of limitations on rape of varying lengths, making victims subject to a "ZIP code lottery" of justice. It's time to do away with them, argues Filipovic. This would be a "small enhancement, not a big fix," but for victims "it could be everything." Click for her full column.