As states around the country consider whether or not to reform outdated laws that protect and enable abusers, we have an opportunity to better protect women of color, who are hyper-vulnerable to sexual assault and relationship violence.
Many states have begun opening up statute of limitations to allow adults, who were sexually abused as children, to come forward and sue their offenders in civil court. Few states have made real change to the typically very short statute of limitations that people who are sexually abused as adults must file suit under. New York is one of few states considering such a change.
The recent R. Kelly conviction illustrates perfectly why statute of limitation reform is so important – especially for sexual assault victims who are black. Simply put, people do not believe survivors of sexual abuse when they first speak out. Prosecutors first criminally charged R. Kelly in 2008 with child pornography. There was video footage put before the jury showing what clearly appeared to be the disgraced singer, urinating on, what very obviously appeared to be, an underaged black girl. However, Kelly was acquitted. Kelly went on to molest and abuse countless other victims and then was criminally charged again in 2019 – this time under federal racketeering and sex trafficking charges. Finally, on September 27, 2021, Kelly was criminally convicted for sex trafficking after avoiding criminal responsibility for decades.
When black women and girls are abused, they are less likely to be believed and supported, according to research. Multiracial, native, and black women experience rape at a higher rate than white, Hispanic, and white women, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.
In the 2008 trial against Kelly, one juror said that they didn’t believe the (black) victims of Kelly’s abuse because of how they dressed and how they acted.
The effects of institutional racism within the context of reporting sexual abuse is an additional hurdle that black women must overcome when confronting their abusers and the systems that enable them. In fact, that’s exactly what Tarana Burke attempted to bring attention to when she first used the “MeToo” hashtag in 2007. #MeToo was created by a Black woman in an attempt to bring awareness and connect resources with Black women survivors. But, the hashtag became synonymous with the (mostly white) sexual assault survivors of Harvey Weinstein in 2015 when Alyssa Milano tweeted it. Few know the hashtag’s true origins.
By meaningfully addressing the statute of limitations and allowing victims to come forward after they’ve had time to receive services and come to terms with their abuse, we can help to correct the racial inequities that are so prevalent still today.
Kelly R. McClintock joined Grewal Law in 2019 to help establish a human trafficking litigation division and to assist Grewal’s already successful practices, including sexual assault litigation, and family law.