Bill would remove statute of limitations on sex crimes, including human trafficking

OLYMPIA — The statute of limitations for most felony sex crimes in Washington state is three years.

That would change under House Bill 1155.

HB 1155, approved 90-8 by the state House of Representatives and referred to the state Senate, would make felony sex offenses prosecutable any time after they were committed.

The bill’s 13 sponsors include Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn; and Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard.

Currently, the only crimes in Washington state for which there are no statute of limitations is murder, homicide by abuse, arson resulting in death, vehicular homicide, vehicular assault resulting in death, and hit-and-run resulting in death.

HB 1155 adds to that list such crimes as first-, second- and third-degree rape of an adult or child; first-, second- and third-degree child molestation; first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor; indecent liberties; voyeurism; and incest.

It also takes aim at perpetrators of human trafficking, particularly of minors, by removing the statute of limitations for sexual exploitation of a minor; communication with a minor for immoral purposes; commercial sexual abuse of a minor; promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor; and promoting travel for commercial sexual abuse of a minor.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports receiving 2,931 reports of human trafficking in Washington state since 2007 — most of those sex trafficking and about half of the victims minors.

And according to the state Attorney’s General’s Office:

  • An estimated 293,000 children in the U.S. are in danger of being sexually trafficked.
  • The victims are American children, youth of all races and all different backgrounds, and range in age from infants to teens.
  • Investigative research by Shared Hope International reveals pimps commonly sell minor girls for $400 an hour on America’s streets.
  • Human rights investigations by Shared Hope International discovered minors were sold an average of 10-15 times a day, six days a week, totaling between 9,360 and 14,040 sex acts a year.

Bremerton Police Chief Steve Strachan said the removal of statute of limitations could encourage victims to report crimes — and would send a powerful message to would-be perpetrators.

“I think one reason for the bill is a lot of sexual exploitation and rape cases are unreported, and then years go by and the victim will disclose it, having gone through something in their lives — such as therapy or counseling —and the statute of limitations has run out,” Strachan said March 27.

“This will allow law enforcement to prosecute even if it occurred years before. It also says in a very public way that we take these crimes so seriously that we’re removing the statute of limitations. The message it sends is, this never goes away. You can and will be held accountable forever.”

Port Orchard Police Chief Geoffrey C. Marti agreed.

“People’s situations change. They seek therapy and it comes up,” Marti said. “Knowing that they have the possibility to seek some resolution [through the justice system], that’s good.”

He added, “We’re here for the victim. That’s what we’re here for.”

(Click here to read the bill, monitor its progress, and submit comments to the Legislature.)