DEMOCRATS, GOVERNOR PUSH TO REMOVE CRIMINAL STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON SEX CRIMES
February 4, 2020
Anna Staver, Randy Ludlow
As the Ohio House prepares to resume hearings on a bill to allow victims of deceased Ohio State University doctor Richard Strauss to sue the university, its fate remains unclear.
However, minority Democrats and the Republican governor are asking whether it’s time to end a separate statute of limitations on filing criminal charges in sexual assault cases.
House Bill 249 would suspend Ohio’s statute of limitations for civil cases stemming from sexual assaults, but only for Strauss’ victims.
Gov. Mike DeWine is leery of the legal concept of granting only Ohio State victims the ability to pursue lawsuits belatedly.
“I think that it’s probably not appropriate to have a bill that treats different victims, who are really in the same position, differently,” he said Tuesday during a forum sponsored by The Associated Press. “A bill that would only apply to certain victims raises some ethical, moral and constitutional challenges.”
Strauss sexually abused at least 177 students over 20 years while working in both the athletic department and student health center at OSU, according to an investigation by the Perkins Cole law firm.
About 350 accusers have sued the university in federal court, but they have not been able to reach a settlement. And that doesn’t sit well with Ohio’s elected officials, including DeWine and House leaders.
“I’ve become very frustrated and disappointed in the fact that these parties have not been able to come together,” said House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford. “I can’t fathom that you could have someone in a position like that for over two decades and not have anyone know.”
House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes agreed.
“This has always been very challenging to watch this play out with the victims of Dr. Strauss and what happened at Ohio State, also knowing that waiting in the wing is the statute of limitation elimination for (criminal) sexual assault and rape,” said Sykes, D-Akron.
“We have been unable to secure a hearing on this bill, and I find it very troubling that we are willing to have this conversation for a very specific group of victims but not all the victims,” she said.
DeWine continues to ask lawmakers to repeal the statute of limitations on criminal charges in sex offense cases. “I cannot see any kind of moral justification for saying ‘You’re home free’ after so many years. ... It uniquely traumatizes the victim.”
In Ohio, criminal rape charges can be filed for up to 20 years in most cases and up to 25 years for certain cases like those involving children. Adult victims of sexual assault must sue within two years of the attack, and abused children must sue before age 30. The average age of victims in the Strauss case is 50.
State Reps. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, and Tavia Galonski, D-Akron, are sponsoring bills that would end criminal and civil limits for rape and sexual assault. Boggs is also working with Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, to drum up support for a bill to remove the cap on repayment for non-economic damages to victims of sexual assault.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that a woman raped by her pastor at a Delaware County church when she was 15 was entitled to only $250,000 in pain-and-suffering damages — not the jury’s award of $3.5 million — because of the tort reform cap on non-economic damages.
DeWine said he had not considered whether the cap should be eliminated, but Sykes pointed to the case as proof that the law needs to change.
Householder appeared to agree, in part, during Tuesday’s forum.
“I’d be more than happy to have that debate again,” Householder said. “But it’s just I remember back in those days in the early 2000s that seemed to be the overwhelming reason why we felt we needed to be where we are at as far as the statute of limitations are concerned.”
Sykes responded: “This is my plea for more women leadership because perhaps we will see more change on these laws. ... We cannot start picking and choosing winners based on the fact of who we may or may not be able to relate to.”
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