Staff Editorial: A statute of limitations limits victims rights

A student pays tuition and can live in a residence hall, buy food at campus dining halls and go to Student Health Service through the duration of his or her GW career.

But if the University’s new sexual assault policy is to take effect, after a year and a half, a student cannot report a sexual assault. After one and a half years, a victim’s problems are no longer GW’s concerns.

Or at least that’s the message the University is sending with the planned one-and-a-half-year statute of limitations for reporting a sexual assault.

When the University released its plans for a new sexual assault policy in September, it included an arbitrary and reprehensible 180-day window during which students could file charges against alleged offenders.

An administrator said that time frame may be extended to a year and a half, which is just as distressing. The University cannot tell a victim when to feel ready to come forward after such a traumatic incident.

These statutes of limitations are troubling and discouraging.

Sexual assault is a notoriously underreported crime on college campuses. Eleven GW students reported sexual assault in 2010, and 16 reported in 2011, according to the Department of Education statistics. Taking into account that federal studies estimate nearly 20 percent of college women are victims of actual or attempted sexual assault, these numbers are startlingly low.

And while students always have the option to report cases of sexual assault to D.C. authorities, they should be able to bring forward sexual assault cases during the duration of their time at the University.

When a student has been sexually assaulted, it can be years before he or she even feels comfortable telling anyone or asking for help. A year and a half will be no better than 180 days.

Under this new policy, more reports could fall through the cracks. Students need a message of unconditional support, but even a year-and-a-half window for reporting a sexual assault fails to offer that and still serves as a deterrence.

A year and a half, two, three or even four years later, these instances are ingrained in an affected individual’s memory. The editorial board considers it insulting that the University would force students to abide by a rule within an arbitrary time frame.

This editorial was updated on Feb. 4, 2013 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet originally stated that the University released plans for its sexual assault policy, which included a 180-day statute of limitations, in October. The plans were released in September. We regret this error.

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