Inside the Fight to End California's Unfair Restrictions on Reporting Rape

Senator Connie Leyva is fighting California's statute of limitations law, which prevents the prosecution of rape cases after 10 years. The issue has been brought to light in the wake of the allegations against Bill Cosby, but Sen. Leyva says she is...

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Dec 22 2015, 4:55pm

Elected on November 4, 2014, Senator Connie M. Leyva (D.—Chino) is serving her first term in the California State Senate. This January, when the Legislature reconvenes in Sacramento, she will introduce a bill to eliminate California's time limit on prosecuting crimes like rape, sodomy, lewd or lascivious acts, oral copulation, sexual penetration and continuous sexual abuse of a child. "Survivors of sexual offenses, including rape, deserve to know that California law stands on their side as they seek justice," Leyva said in a statement when the bill was announced. "A sexual predator should not be able to evade legal consequences in California for no other reason than that the time limits set in state law have expired."

Currently, California limits the prosecution of a felony rape case to 10 years after the incident. More than 30 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have statutes of limitations of various lengths on rape and sexual assault cases, while at least sixteen other states have already removed the statute of limitations on rape cases—including Kentucky, Idaho, West Virginia, and Maryland.

We spoke with Senator Leyva about how the movement to end the statute of limitations is about more than just Bill Cosby, and why she thinks her bill will pass.

Broadly: Can you start off by telling me a little bit about your political career?
Senator Connie Leyva: I've been a part of the labor movement for 30 years prior to running for office. I have a very strong and deep belief in helping others, and really trying to help women especially, move forward working in the labor movement. A good job fixes a lot of what ails us in society, and for women especially. We now have a law that says women cannot be paid less than a man for the same job, thank you Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, but that's always been a struggle. Women's issues have always been a priority for me; working people's issues have always been a priority for me. I've helped get people elected over the years, I ran my own local union, I was the president of the California Labor Federation, I've always worked to get good people elected. And then two years ago, in 2014, when Norma Torres decided to run for Congress, I thought it might be a good opportunity for me to run for Senate and give me a different way to help people, and maybe a broader way to help people and to help more people.

Why is ending the statute of limitations on rape cases a cause that is important to you personally?
Thank god I'm not a victim of rape, but my husband and I have two daughters, and I just see that things do not seem to be getting better when it comes to violence against women. If anything, it seems like it's getting worse. Statistics show that 1 in 6 women will be raped, 1 in 33 men will be raped, but only 2 out of 100 rapists will ever be prosecuted for their crime.

1 in 6 women will be raped, 1 in 33 men will be raped, but only 2 out of 100 rapists will ever be prosecuted for their crime.

To be candid, I didn't even know that there was a statute of limitation on rape until recently. And when I found that out I thought, "Well, that's ridiculous, because so many women don't feel comfortable coming forward right away, for just a multitude of reasons." If they're very young when they're raped, they may not feel comfortable coming forward until they're a little older and a little more mature and have a little more substance to them. So having that limitation seemed wrong to me, but I thought, "You know, what do I know? It's not what I do for a living." So I called District Attorney Mike Ramos out in San Bernadino to get his view. He thought it was a fantastic idea [to end the statute of limitations] and asked to be a co-author. He said that it was very much needed. So that kind of helped bolster me to think, "This really is something we need to do."

Well that goes right into my next question: With whom are you working to write the legislation itself? I know the Los Angeles Women's Law Center has been helping write it.
Those are my two key co-sponsors right now [DA Mike Ramos and the LA Women's Law Center]. I know that Senator Fran Pavley has signed on to a co-author, and we just actually sent out from the capital to my colleagues this week a request for whoever wants to be involved. So I don't know who else has signed on this week. Gloria Allred has also been helping us on the bill, she's terrific.

Do you think the many allegations against Bill Cosby here in California contributed to the bill's viability?
For me, Bill Cosby has absolutely nothing to do with why I'm doing this. He's famous, he's going to get his own media. I am interested in the average, everyday woman who isn't getting media attention. For me it has nothing to do with him.

I only ask because the organization End Rape SOL has been working closely with some of Bill Cosby's survivors to push for this legislation.
Right. And that's great, I think they should continue to do that. If they want to work with me, I'd be happy to have them. But I just don't want this to be a Bill-Cosby-centric bill, because he's one of thousands and thousands of men who have done this. So we don't want to focus on him, we want to focus on the thousands of perpetrators who've gotten away with this crime and aren't famous.

We want to focus on the thousands of perpetrators who've gotten away with this crime and aren't famous.

Do you think the bill will pass?
You know, I'm a new legislator, but I think you always put something forward with the idea and the hope that it will. That you'll have a good argument, and that we'll get it out of both houses and onto the governor's desk, and that he will see it's the right thing to do and sign it. So I would say I think it does have a good chance. Until I'm proven otherwise.

How can the average person get involved with ending the rape statute of limitations?
For women who are in the state, they should contact in their local legislator, both in the assembly and the senate, and let them know that it's an important issue to them. Legislators need to first hear that it's important to women in their district, and then once it gets to the Governor's desk, do the same with the Governor. The Governor needs to hear that it's important, and needs to become a law.

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