As an incoming sophomore in college, it has become increasingly apparent to me that my identity as a female on campus puts me in danger every day. While sexual assault has been an issue for decades, the problem has only recently become a hot topic. In 2013, many universities came under fire when a large number of Title IX complaints were filed by students against their institutions. My hope would be that if my university could not adequately provide me justice within the school system, at least I could rely on the federal criminal justice system. And even then, we see in the case of Brock Turner that a 6-month sentence can be seen by courts as justice for trauma that lasts a lifetime. In our society, rape is one of the only crimes that society makes excuses for. Not only is this the only crime where we ask the victim what they were wearing or what they were drinking, but, astonishingly, we also allow an arbitrary number of years to determine when our pursuit of justice expires. This enormous barrier backed up by California law is the statute of limitations.
Under California law the statute of limitations on prosecuting felony rape and sexual assault cases is 10 years. About a month ago, I represented NCJW|LA as a college student intern with The Talk Project and traveled to the Capitol in Sacramento with End Rape SOL, a coalition including professor Caroline Heldman and a group of Cosby rape survivors, in support of the new bill SB 813. This new bill is supported by Senator Leyva and, if passed, would abolish the statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault to allow survivors an opportunity to seek justice against their perpetrator. We attended the Public Safety Committee Meeting and after hearing testimonies from supporters, rape survivors, and those in objection to the bill, we were overjoyed to see a unanimous vote in favor of the bill.
Listening to assemblymembers speak out in support of SB 813 and listening to survivors give their testimonies was an empowering experience. Being in the presence of strong women contributing something great to this social justice movement and, beyond that, allowing my own voice to be heard, was one of the most rewarding experiences in my adult life. I had the opportunity to express my support of SB 813 to the Assembly Public Safety Committee, and after the bill got a unanimous vote I went and lobbied other assemblymembers, asking for their support to move forward and push this bill to the floor. History was being made and I was there to participate in it. To know that we are moving towards a safer future where justice has no time limit means a great deal to me.
While it has thus far been smooth sailing within the legislature, we still have strides to make before the bill lands on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. While I felt confident and reassured when the vote was unanimous, I was deeply troubled by the reasoning behind those who were not in support of the bill. Many of those opposed to eliminating the statute claimed that it could lead to an increase in false convictions. Another woman who had been sexually assaulted explained that not only do memories fade, but that this bill would distract from the real issue that is rape culture. While both claims are false, Senator Leyva explained it best when she said “[The statute] is not helping those who were raped, it is helping those who are the rapist.” If the bill is to take effect, it would not, in any way shape or form, change the law in terms of the amount of evidence needed to make a conviction. Rather, it would simply allow survivors the opportunity to pursue justice without an arbitrary amount of time preventing them from doing so.
Advocating for this issue goes beyond eliminating the statute of limitations. This step forward contributes to the greater cause against sexual assault. I walk on a campus nine months out of the year, which puts me at risk each of those days. I’ve experienced feeling unsafe within my own dorm. I have slammed on the doors of frat houses demanding justice. I have questioned our Vice President of Student Affairs in person, asking why things have not changed. And now, I’m taking concrete action. This summer while interning at NCJW|LA, I will be lobbying assemblymembers and also reconstructing a sexual assault education script for college-aged students. Along with that I am also interning with Party With Consent, an education-based organization that strives to amplify the healthy voices of sexual violence through deconstructing unhealthy gender norms and behaviors. I am grateful that both these organizations are helping me have a voice in the fight against sexual assault, both in education and legislation. However, this battle contains many components and requires each and every one of us to speak out. No matter the age, experience, or gender. Just as justice has no time limit it also has no boundaries as to who demands it. Be brave, be loud, and have your voice heard.
Valerie Lopez is an incoming sophomore at USC. Year round she is involved in social justice projects on campus and off campus, specifically related to gender based violence and racial issues. This summer she is interning with NCJW|LA’s The Talk Project.
A version of this article was also featured on The Jewish Journal's blog Woman Writes run by NCJW/LA's Director of Legislative and Community Engagement, Maya Paley.