Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation Friday that makes Illinois the eighth state to remove time restrictions on prosecuting crimes of sexual violence.
The Democrat signed into law a measure that lifts a 10-year statute of limitations on pressing charges in felony cases of sexual assault and sexual abuse.
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, is key for sex-crime victims, who sometimes are too traumatized or overwhelmed to immediately pursue criminal charges against their attackers, said Carrie Ward, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
In 2017, Illinois abolished time limits on prosecuting sex crimes against victims younger than 18. Although current law for adult victims allows prosecution within 10 years, the time limit is actually less. The victim must have first reported the crime to authorities within three years.
Sen. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said eliminating those limits made sense given the myriad reasons that make victims reluctant to go to court.
"It would be impossible for us to come up with every plausible reason. We shouldn't have to," Holmes said. "The victim has already been traumatized, so they've got to work through it themselves. Maybe they want to seek counseling first before they come forward."
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, Illinois joins Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming and the District of Columbia in having removed statutes of limitations on all felony-level sex crimes. The organization plans to lobby other states for similar action.
Rep. Keith Wheeler, an Oswego Republican who co-sponsored the legislation after a teenage constituent was raped, did not immediately return messages left for him Friday. In March, when a House committee was considering the plan, he said another reason to support it is that technological advances would make it easier to prove or disprove cases, even after an extended period.
"Advances in DNA testing have made it possible to solve decades-old cases with evidence that wasn't available at the time," Wheeler said in March. "That's why this legislation is particularly important now, to allow modern technology to help obtain justice for more victims of sexual assault."