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Our Opinion: Rape prosecutions shouldn't be limited

Victims of rape and sexual assault must cope with their emotional pain for life. Why, then, does Oregon law allow the people who perpetrate these crimes to be freed from the threat of prosecution in as little as six years?

Two courageous women are publicly telling their stories of horrifying sexual assaults in an attempt to alter the statute of limitations for rape in Oregon. For the state’s legislators, this should not be a difficult issue at all. There are compelling reasons to lengthen the statute of limitations for such cases — or to abolish the limits altogether.

The experiences of Danielle Tudor and Brenda Tracy provide maddening examples of why Oregon’s law needs to be changed. Tudor was raped by Richard Troy Gillmore in 1979. Her story came to light after the Portland Tribune and Gresham Outlook reported in 2007 that Gillmore — known as the “jogger rapist” — was scheduled to be released on parole after having served only a third of his 60-year sentence.

The subsequent public outcry halted Gillmore’s release and brought victims such as Tudor forward, but the rapist probably wouldn’t have been eligible for parole in the first place if he had been convicted of all the crimes he had committed.

Although Gillmore admitted to nine rapes, including the assault on Tudor, he was convicted of just one of his crimes. Many of his rapes could not be prosecuted because they fell outside the six-year statute of limitations.

Tracy was a 24-year-old waitress at a restaurant in Keizer back in 1998, when she reported being raped and sodomized by four men after a night on the town with others in Corvallis. Three of them were football players at Oregon State University. Tracy says she was discouraged from proceeding to trial by the Benton County district attorney, who gave her the impression it would be a difficult case to prove.

Now, Tracy wishes she had pursued justice, but she has been stymied by the statute of limitations and the fact that DNA evidence was not preserved.

These two women are far from alone in having been assaulted by men and then abused by the justice system.

At least one of every six women in the United States is a survivor of rape or a target of attempted rape. (Three percent of men have been rape victims.) Too often, the victims choose not to prosecute immediately because they have been traumatized and aren’t prepared for another ordeal.

With technological advances — such as DNA evidence — the opportunity to take years-old rape cases to trial is better today than in the past. Rapists should not be allowed to believe the threat of exposure and prosecution has been lifted after a mere six years.

Oregon has one of the nation’s shortest statutes of limitations for rape, although it is longer for victims under age 18, and there is an exception if DNA evidence is involved. Tudor and Tracy are lobbying Oregon lawmakers to dramatically extend that time period.

Legislators should do just that, or even remove the statute of limitations altogether for rape.

Lawmakers may have many hard decisions to make in the 2015 legislative session, but this isn’t one of them. It is only fair that rapists should have to deal with their crimes for just as long as their victims do.

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