SALEM — The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill doubling Oregon’s statute of limitation on rape to 12 years.
House Bill 2317, which has already cleared the House, moves to the full Senate without change, despite pleas that Oregon’s statute of limitations should be set even longer.
Advocates had urged the committee to extend the deadline for prosecutions to 20 years.
“It took me years not only to disclose everything Pastor Mike did to me, but to even realize just how badly the abuse affected my life,” said Jessica Watson, one of seven victims of Mike Sperou, who was convicted April 30 in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
Sperou, 64, was pastor at a Happy Valley church. He was convicted in connection with only the youngest of the seven victims, who all chose to go on the record. The statute of limitations barred his prosecution on crimes involving the others, including Watson.
Watson and others favored an extension to 20 years – or even no limit.
“But it was not the statute of limitations that failed them,” said Thomas Sermak, executive director of Public Defender of Marion County Inc., in opposing the change. “The system failed them in other ways.”
The proposed 12-year limit would apply to four first-degree sex crimes: Rape, sodomy, unlawful sexual penetration, and sex abuse.
The House bill mimics the change that lawmakers made in 2005, when victims of sex crimes under age 18 have until age 30 to seek prosecution.
Oregon most recently increased its statute of limitations for rape and other serious sex crimes in 1989, when lawmakers raised it from three to six years. There is no limit, however, if there is DNA evidence available.
The current deadline puts Oregon among the states with the shortest periods, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. About 40 states set it at 10 years or longer, and 28 of them have no limits.
Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the Judiciary Committee chairman, described the 12-year limit as a stopgap pending a review of the limitations for first-degree sex crimes. He said he seeks a recommendation that lawmakers can be prepared to act on in the 2016 session.
Challenged by Danielle Tudor, a 1989 rape victim who told her story in the Portland Tribune on Feb. 10, Prozanski said the review is not a “smokescreen” to head off legislative approval of a still-longer limit.
“I feel we have to go through a deliberative process and ensure that we are doing right,” Prozanski said.
Brenda Tracy, a 1998 rape victim who went public with her own story in the Portland Tribune and other media, talked about a previous rape that occurred when she was 9 and a third-grade student in Salem.
The perpetrator was the boyfriend of a babysitter, but Tracy said she told her mother about it only after her family moved away.
“I remember feeling my whole world was going to change once I told my mom what happened,” Tracy told the senators.
It did – but when she reported it to police, nothing happened.
“At 12, I did not know what the statute of limitations meant,” she said. “I only heard nothing was going to be done. We all pretended it didn’t happen and I never spoke about it again until recently.”
Tracy said she represented only herself.
Tudor’s perpetrator was Richard Troy Gillmore, who was convicted in a different case and has been in state prison since 1987. Tracy’s four perpetrators were arrested but never indicted.
Gail Meyer, lobbyist for the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said several lawyers from the group met with Tracy and Tudor in an effort to understand each other’s perspectives.
“We just did not know how to find middle ground,” said Meyer, whose group now opposes any change.
“We see an unfortunate truth: All allegations of sexual assault do not look the same. Some simply are not true.”
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.