Victim: Statute of limitations too short in Iowa and Illinois

2013-11-30T04:30:00Z 2013-12-02T04:47:08Z Victim: Statute of limitations too short in Iowa and IllinoisBarb Ickes The Quad-City Times

The way Natalie Long sees it, the rape of a child is like a murder.

"Sexual abuse takes the soul of a child," the Rock Island woman said. "It takes away your innocence and how you view the world. It challenges every foundation you have — everything you believed in and trusted."

Because of the lasting and life-changing trauma of being sexually abused as a child, Long regards many states' time limits for prosecuting offenders a secondary form of abuse. She wants to change that and has begun her appeal against such statutes of limitations in Iowa and Illinois.

Long and Rock Island lawyer Arthur Winstein have launched a new foundation with a goal of changing many states' statutes of limitations for sexual abuse against minors, dubbed S.A.A.M. (

"Our argument is that there is not enough time to come to terms with, cope and face your abuser within these time frames," Long said, citing Iowa's 10-year limit as an example of a too-short statute. "We had a 72-year-old woman come to us who'd been keeping it to herself for 60 years."

While Long would like to see limits lifted entirely, making it possible to prosecute perpetrators indefinitely, Winstein is taking a more lawyerly approach.

"A 30-year statute of limitations isn't unreasonable," he said. "I don't know that you'd find a victim that would put a date on it, though."

Added Long, "It is unfathomable to me they (perpetrators) sweat it out for 10 years and then never have to worry again. Then there's me. No day comes that I get to say, 'Whew! I'm done with that!' "

The duo launched the mission in April, beginning with the Iowa Senate in Des Moines.

"We got a chance to meet privately, very privately, with the Democratic Caucus, to get our foot in the door," Winstein said. "We talked about what the bill might look like, and they invited us to come back in January."

Iowa appears to be more manageable ground for change, given the comparatively standard set of limitations. For instance, in cases of first, second and third-degree sexual abuse, a suspect must be prosecuted with 10 years of the victim turning 18. The same law applies in cases of incest.

"If you're raped as a child in Iowa, but you haven't come to terms with it by the age of 28, that guy goes free forever," Winstein said.

But Scott County Attorney Mike Walton pointed out that it wasn't long ago, about a decade, when statutes of limitations were even shorter for sex crimes against kids. Until the latest extensions, he said, Iowa treated the cases the same as most other crimes, which was to assign a 3-year cutoff for prosecution. Murder is the only crime that has no statutory limit.

"I don't see it as highly controversial to extend it," Walton said. "Defense attorneys would argue that it's unfair. I certainly understand the policy behind a statute of limitations. At some point, it's difficult to prosecute but also to defend."

Walton said he can recall very few instances, during 25 years as a prosecutor, in which a case was not brought against a possible perpetrator because of time running out.

"We haven't had a lot of cases barred by the statute," he said. "The clergy allegations would be one (tried in civil court instead). The County Attorneys' Association would look at it (a proposed extension). I'm only looking at it for Scott County. Statewide, it might be different."

The law is definitely different in Illinois, where the general limit is 20 years. However, there are exceptions and extensions.

"It gets pretty complicated when you look at all the charges involving children," Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee warned. "I don't know what the rationale was. As prosecutors, we have to look at the specific charge to see what statutes might apply."

While there is room for improvement in Illinois' limits, he said, his one year in office has revealed no specific failures.

"No one in the last year has said, 'Listen, we have a problem with the statute of limitations,' " he added. "There's always going to be that case ... when you'd like to prosecute somebody for something they did a long time ago."

Long wants to take things another step, saying that S.A.A.M. will come up with a way to prosecute parents and other adults for knowing a child is being sexually abused and failing to report it. Recent data, provided by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, states that 82 percent of reports of sex abuse of children are made by professionals who are legally required to report such crimes, primarily: police, nurses, school social workers, and mental health and other social service staff.

"As a child, you don't have these chances," Long said. "I didn't know to walk into a resource center. We rely on adults."

Copyright 2015 The Quad-City Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(11) Comments

  1. finch
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    finch - December 03, 2013 7:18 am
    How do you propose to deal with the problems discussed below -- the inability to defend against an allegation of something, say, sometime in the summer of 1975?
  2. Barbara Blaine
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    Barbara Blaine - December 02, 2013 9:57 am
    Natalie Long is correct. It is common sense to hold predators accountable for the damage they cause. Considering the psychological damage done to us as children prevents us from speaking up sooner the law should not only allow but encourage victims to speak up whenever we are able. The average age a victim reports in 42 years old. Thankfully, Illinois has already eliminated the statute of limitations for child sex abuse for criminal as well as civil law. Governor Quinn signed the new IL laws in August 2013 and they take effect Jan 1, 2014. So now it is time for Iowa lawmakers to step up. There is no need for any statute of limitations. Allowing victims to access the courts makes children safer. When our predators are exposed parents, neighbors, teachers and employers can then keep children away.
    Barbara Blaine
    SNAP President
    Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
    312 399 4747
  3. finch
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    finch - December 01, 2013 3:01 pm
    So, I could be wrong, but I think the longer statute of limitations would not cover only a few acts with a child -- toughing the child's breast, butt, or inner thigh. The other acts would also be sex abuse, which also has the longer statute of limitations.
  4. finch
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    finch - December 01, 2013 2:44 pm
    Right. And the longer statute of limitations for any sex abuse charge where the victim is a child at the time of the abuse.
  5. Iowa Girl
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    Iowa Girl - December 01, 2013 1:41 pm
    Yes we're talking about the same thing - see Iowa code 802.3 which involves the SOL of child sex crimes. Inappropriate touching of a minor by a teacher or counselor gives the victim 10 years beyond their 18 birthday to be reported. However, the same inappropriate touching by a stranger, family member, or acquaintance only gives the victim 3 years from the commission of the crime to be reported. Even if the authorities have a confession from the alleged perpetrator, it is barred.

    The SOL is too short!
  6. finch
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    finch - December 01, 2013 7:58 am
    It's very unusual to be able to put together a forty or fifty year old murder case. It's usually when guilt finally overcomes someone who was involved, or now we have a test that wasn't available back then, like DNA. It's not when a traumatized victim digs a terrible memory out of his childhood, and it could be either right or wrong.

    This type of case can so easily be a wrong memory. Mary is in therapy for being raped by her father in the 1960's. The memory finally comes back, but it's too painful to know her dad did it, so the memory involves dad's little brother. All the witness are either dead or don't really know whether Uncle Tony ever went upstairs to use the bathroom after the kids were in bed when he visited sometime in the 60's. The victim is sincere and horrified, so there is no reason not to believe her. And it's a terrible act, so the prosecutor wants to go after it with everything he has.

    There is no way to win in this issue. We came up with a compromise that's more reasonable than "forever" but also gives victims time as an adult to get up the courage to come forward.
  7. finch
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    finch - December 01, 2013 7:20 am
    I don't know the case you're talking about, Iowa Girl, but I don't believe that is the law they are talking about. I believe they are talking about the types of crimes that have a Statute of Limitations of ten years after the victim turns 18 (in Iowa).
  8. Klaatu
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    Klaatu - November 30, 2013 10:37 pm
    I simply must disagree here. Nobody loathes child molestation any more than I, but our justice system has to be fair. It isn't fair to expect anyone to be called into court and defend an accusation that may be decades old. How many of you could possibly remember where they were or what they were doing on a given day last month, much less on a given day decades ago? It would be an impossibility to defend oneself. How do you prove you didn't do something horrible that left no evidence? There must be limitations on how long a victim can wait before seeking justice.
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    JOHN_GALT - November 30, 2013 8:04 pm
    Well written. Things change a bit when the innocent are accused.
  10. Iowa Girl
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    Iowa Girl - November 30, 2013 3:26 pm
    I don't know how long the statute of limitations should be exactly, but I do know that it is NOT long enough.

    Mr. Walton failed to recall a child sexual molestation case set to go trial in Davenport 10/14/13 that was barred due to exceeding the short 3-year statute of limitations. No justice for that child!
  11. freesenior
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    freesenior - November 30, 2013 6:02 am
    The notion of sexual abuse as defined as the rape of a child is abhorant to our Western Culture. It is never to be tolerated and it is life long in its damage. Helping the victim is indeed the ultimate focus of a cultural response to such a horrifying experience. Most certainly, abused children are the most innocent of crime victims and our culture is often wonting in recognizing that helping them recover from their trauma is more important than seeking retribution from an alleged perpetrator. By law, the State is the official party that can pursue a criminal charge. We have no personal right to vengence and justice belongs to the State. In some respects the victim is just a conduit to the response by a criminal court. On the other hand, there is the civil issue. People are inspired by a lot of things and money or the desire for it can be as compelling a motive for allegations of sexual misconduct as there are legitimate foundations for of a crime in the first place. Are children predisposed to lying? Possibly but far less indeed than adults who for a million other reasons that shape their mature nature would not be constrained by the truth. The further the claim is away from the event, the more questions have to be raised. While the courts are the place to do so, allegations when it comes to sex crimes are too often percieved by the public as more important than the facts. Stand accused and condemned may be two side the same coin. Expanding the time frame for the bringing of such charges and or claims adds the potential of more and deeper pockets that would serve to pay for an alleged sin. Even experts when cross examined can be compelled to honestly admit that while they have opinion, it is only based , absent physical evidence, upon what they have been told and they interpret on the basis of present day understanding of medicine and psychology. Trial Lawyers represent clients and standard practice is to make broad and often ultimatly not supported allegations of conduct. Why? Because putting a civil defendant under as many microcopes as possible creates risk for them. Risks that have dollar signs attached. I can think of nothing more devastating than to be accused of this type of crime and have no way to defend one's self 30 years post an alleged event. School teachers? Church Leaders? Aunts and Uncles? Neighbors? No doubt an unlimited supply of potentially responsible parties is out there and would be subject to but blindsiding testimony of an accusser based upon alleged recollections that are claimed to have arisen decades ago? Mental illiness and criminal conduct often are tied to one another, most often because the outcome as impacted upon others is the same. I do not know if there is a correct response to the issue raised in the article. There certainly could be many incorrect responses. That is why society benefits from identifying crimes and dealing with them in the moment. The longer memories fade and damaged imaginations reconstruct sometimes fictional events or interpret events fictionally, little if any good can come from it. Hence my view that getting the victim help emotionally and mentally is and should be the focus of any intervention into such horrible events regardless as to when they are recognized or remembered,. Such a horrible crime that even the imagination of it conveys harm it would seem. Everyone is a victim then.
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