Oregon Legislators Pass Two Bills Supporting Rape Victims

Oregon Capitol PioneerOregon lawmakers have sent two bills to the governor for her signature that would benefit rape victims as well as victims of other sex crimes.

Senate Bill 1600 removes the statute of limitations for first-degree sex crimes, including rape, when there’s additional corroborating evidence, even if there’s no DNA evidence available. Under current Oregon law, such crimes have a twelve year statute of limitations in which to bring forth a criminal charge.

In advocating for the change to the statute of limitations, Representative Jennifer Williamson noted, “The fear doesn’t disappear. The violence doesn’t subside,” Williamson said. “And yet the path for rape survivors and survivors of sexual assault to bring their attackers to justice does run out in this state.”

The other piece of legislation that will be sent to the Governor for her signature is “Melissa’s Bill” or Senate Bill 1571. It was named after Melissa Bittler, a 14-year-old Portland girl who was attacked and killed by a serial rapist in 2001.The attack occurred across the street from her home in Portland.

In Bittler’s case, sexual assault kits from at least two other young teens who were attacked by the same rapist four years earlier sat on the Portland Police Bureau’s evidence shelves. They were tested only after detectives investigating Bittler’s death noticed similarities in the attacks, discovered the kits and submitted them to a lab.

Legislators credited Melissa’s parents for shepherding the bill through both legislative chambers. Melissa’s Bill passed the Oregon House unanimously. Senate Bill 1571 directs police agencies in Oregon to adopt rules for processing untested sexual assault kits by next January. The bill doesn’t provide a time frame for the state lab to test kit evidence – as some had sought – but allows the lab to prioritize the testing of kits.

Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign the legislation, good news for sexual assault victim advocates. It is too little too late for the Bittler family but their courage and determination has brought change and progress to an issue that requires our urgent attention.

Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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