COLUMBUS — Virtually every Ohio attorney general from the past 28 years wants to end the state's statute of limitations on rape.
Current Attorney General Dave Yost, alongside predecessors Betty D. Montgomery, a Republican, and Nancy H. Rogers, a Democrat, released a letter Monday urging the General Assembly to end the time limits prosecutors have to charge people with rape.
The letter's signatories include Yost and five former Ohio attorneys general, including Montgomery, Rogers, Republican Jim Petro, and Democrats Lee Fisher and Richard Cordray, last year's Democratic nominee for governor.
Yost cited the lack of a statute of limitations on murder as justification to end those on rape, now 20 years.
"We believe that murder and rape have a lot in common in the sense that they are grievous offenses," he said, "and the seriousness of it warrants the long arm of the state to go past limitations in time. The question is really 'Is rape more like homicide or more like a theft?' And obviously it is an incredible invasion of the integrity of the human being and is much closer to the crime of homicide."
Rogers, who is on the faculty of the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, expressed optimism for the bipartisan effort, saying that increased public awareness of the issue will help the change move forward.
"They are beginning to understand the suffering that continues as the victim," she said. "And with that public understanding of these things, I think it will be feasible, and in other states we have seen that it was feasible to change the statute of limitations for rape.”
Yost's proposal comes on the heels of another former attorney general, Gov. Mike DeWine, advocating for the end of the statute of limitations in wake of the investigation into the late Dr. Richard Strauss, who abused at least 177 former students in his 20 years at Ohio State University.
“Some of our statute of limitations for sexual offenses are just horribly short. It makes no sense. It’s not right. It’s a question of injustice. How do we make sure there’s justice for victims," DeWine said.
DeWine said he wants to entirely eliminate the statute of limitations for rape and look at extending it for other sexual offenses.
The only living former attorney general not listed as backing the extension is Marc Dann, who resigned in May 2008.
Reps. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, and Tavia Galonski, D-Akron, are sponsoring legislation designed to modernize Ohio's rape code. Their proposal would eliminate the statute of limitations and the spousal exemption for rape and other sexual offenses.
Rep. David Leland, another Columbus Democrat and the ranking member of the House Criminal Justice Committee, who has co-sponsored legislation that would end the statute of limitations for rape in the past three general assemblies, applauded Yost for bringing the issue forward and called for bipartisan work on any eventual legislation. The legislation in the last General Assembly had only Democratic sponsors and co-sponsors.
"I think people change, people’s attitudes change, I think it’s something that is very timely. In fact it’s overdue, and we should work bipartisan way to get this changed. I wouldn’t want to presume anything about any opposition to this bill,” Leland said.
Yost attempted to counter arguments against such a proposal, including the question of why it would take someone 20 years to come forward, saying that line of thinking is misguided.
"It’s a common misperception that people are ready to go to the police immediately after the crime is committed against them," he said. "But the fact of the matter is that this isn’t like having the stuff stolen out of your car or your garage. This is the invasion of the most personal aspect of your humanity by force.
"I’ve sat with these survivors of this horrible crime that have had delayed and you can see them, the pain in their eyes. Sometimes they’re shaking and crying years later."
Boggs also said contentions the change in law would flood the courts with claims do not carry much weight for her.
"For a victim to come forward and relive the incident of being raped, it’s not only traumatic but incredibly difficult," she said. "The fear that this could result in false claims being brought forward is far less of a concern for me as a lawmaker than allowing so many victims to not have access to justice."
Dispatch reporter Rick Rouan contributed to this story.