The Right To Come Forward
Often times people will question why an adult who was sexually abused in their childhood waited years to disclose. I cannot speak for all victims or survivors, but I can say with a certainty many of us felt shame, embarrassment, and guilt; we were led to believe it was our fault or we could get in trouble. Many of us loved our abusers because that same abuser was someone we once trusted and we didn’t want them to get into trouble. It is possible for victims and survivors to work through healing and unlearn what they were taught in the midst of survival: they were never at fault and their abuser is to blame.
If a survivor gets to this point and decides to seek justice, sometimes their fight is already lost due to statute of limitations (SOL) in their state relating to sex crimes. Since we are from Illinois, we wanted to go over the confusing changes of SOL and how they are changing for the better. In Illinois, we have 5 major forms of sexual violence that can bring about criminal charges.
Criminal Sexual Assault
Aggravated Criminal Sexual Assault
Predatory Criminal Sexual Assault of a Child
Criminal Sexual Abuse
Aggravated Criminal Sexual Abuse
Depending on the age of the victim, how the perpetrator knew the victim, the severity of the abuse, when the abuse occurred, and if the laws have changed…statute of limitations are all over the place. Originally, Illinois had a SOL of 3 years for child victims; Meaning a report had to be filed within 3 years of the offense. Realizing that it takes most victims more than 3 years to come forward, SOL was changed and extended for 1 year after the victim turned 18 on January 1st of 1986. This means that even if a child was abused at 5 years old, they could still report up until their 19th birthday. Confused yet? We’re still not done!
In 2000, the laws were changed again. The one-year limitations was extended to 10 years, giving child victims a window until their 28th birthday to report. Then in 2003, the SOL was extended to 20 years from the day the child victim turned 18, allowing victims to report until they are 38. While these changes were significant and a step in the right direction, they would never have been enough. It can take more than 20 years for a victim to find their path in healing that leads to a criminal complaint. Putting a limit on reporting sex crimes ultimately adds a timeline to healing. Healing, as we’ve mentioned before, can be messy and not at all linear in nature. Forcing that process will only serve to hurt the victim. That’s why the most recent changes to SOL are so critical for victims.
In 2017, Illinois eliminated the SOL on sex crimes against children. The impact that sexual abuse can have on a child can continue into adulthood and span what feels like forever. It is only fair to remove arbitrary limitations on crimes that victims ultimately have to spend a lifetime healing from. In January of 2020, the most recent change on SOL went into affect. The SOL on criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and aggravated criminal sexual abuse were completely removed, regardless of age. Victims can report at any time.
The most recent changes show a true fight to change the culture around sexual violence. It’s understanding that victims, no matter their age, have a right to come forward when they are mentally, physically, and emotionally able to do so. Survivors are not forced to rush a report or made to feel that their power is stolen once again. If you have specific questions about you or someone you know, you can reach out to a local rape crisis center and request to speak with a legal advocate. They are confidential, free, and ready to help you on your journey to find justice.
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
Hey, it’s Victor, welcome to another Be Seen and Heard© Journey. Thank you so much for being with me today, whether you’re watching this video or listening it through the podcast…thanks for being here. I’m so grateful. I get a lot of questions when I present my Be Seen and Heard© curriculum to students and I typically take questions starting in fifth grade and up…and this question is probably the most popular and it goes like this…Hey Victor, did the person who sexually abused you, did he go to jail? And I always take that question, I turn it back on them because a lot of them already know a little bit about my story. And I’ll say, based on what you heard today, do you think he went to jail? And I always get students that raise their hand and say, no he didn’t. And I’ll say, why?
And they’ll say, because you waited too long to talk about it.
See, I don’t think anyone who is a victim of a sexual crime of any kind should ever think that they, if they wait too long, can’t get the justice they deserve. I’m a firm believer of that. But see,I, didn’t talk. I waited 11 long years before I finally had the courage to share. I always tell this to the students that it took me that long because of all my fear. It took me that long because I was threatened not to talk. And I believed this person. I allowed this person to control my emotional state when it came to my abuse. And yes, it was his fault for what he did to me. He violated my body. But I took that and I internalized it for 11 years until I finally had the courage me to privately raise my hand and go talk to my sister, which led to talking to a counselor.
And the time came when I turned 19 where the counselor just suggested, she said, Victor, would you like to go put a report in? And I did. I wanted to see what was going to happen because I was really angry at the time and really still very scared. Long story short, I don’t feel that the police officer that I talked to really handled it well. They didn’t seem very sympathetic and to be honest with you, I don’t think they were really comfortable talking to me about it.
Now I know it has changed. The culture has changed and I know the police department and all the agencies are out to help victims. Why? Because victims are coming forward and they’re starting to share more and more. Rightfully so. And today’s topic, today’s blog post is on statute of limitations and I’m happy to report that in Illinois starting in January, 2020 the statute of limitations for all sex crimes has been eliminated.
So what I’ve learned is that any person who is a victim starting January of 2020 there is no statute of limitations and that it may take someone five, ten, fifteen, twenty years to finally have the courage to share. And I get really passionate about it because I feel that part of my life growing up, I just, it kept me from being the kid that I wanted to be because I was scared. I had nightmares. I was afraid. Long story short, I finally took the responsibility and I live now and I have to end with this because it’s so important and I’m trying to reach out to any victim out there who’s still struggling. This person abused my body when I was eight years old, but I no longer allow him to abuse my life. He will never abuse my life again.
And now with this law being passed, this idea that I have that he will never abuse my life again is your time to finally speak up. So I’m sharing this and I’m talking to people that I know that have been victims of abuse or of assault, and I’m just here to say that for me, I don’t want to dig up the past. I don’t want to…if I had the opportunity to press charges, now that’s not for me. But I know for a fact there are people that will take years and years before they finally have the courage, and they should have the ability and the capability and the freedom to press charges because something was done very terribly to them. So with that being said, this week’s a very challenging topic for me…Statute of limitations…I’m just so honored that you’re listening. Please share this video with your friends and family. Remember, we have to remind our kids they have the right to be seen and heard. Thank you.