Why Harvey Weinstein Still Isn't Being Investigated for Sexual Assault in California

The disgraced producer is facing criminal probes in New York and London, but not in his home state. There are many reasons a survivor may not come forward—statute of limitations still applies to sexual assault cases from before 2016.

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Oct 17 2017, 5:00pm

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris via Getty Images

Update: According to reports, Weinstein is now being investigated in LA following accusations that he raped an actress in 2013, which would fall within the 10-year window established under California's former statute of limitations law.

According to numerous reports, Hollywood movie producer and alleged sexual predator Harvey Weinstein is now under investigation in London and in New York following a flurry of sexual assault accusations.

As of Sunday, The Guardian reports, authorities in London have begun looking into five allegations of sexual assault by three women, which are said to have happened in 1992, 2010, 2011, and 2015. Another woman, actor Lysette Anthony, told the Sunday Times that Weinstein raped her in her home in the late 1980s; on Thursday, she passed along video evidence to police.

Meanwhile, in New York, local police are investigating the claim from then-aspiring actress Lucia Evans that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in his Tribeca office in 2004. "On Sunday," the New York Times noted, "the police said detectives were [also] investigating several other new allegations made in recent days."

The problem for many of Weinstein's accusers, women's rights attorney Gloria Allred said during a press conference last week, is that they're unable to seek justice because of the statutes of limitations on sex assault and other sex crimes, which exist in various states. Prior to 2006, for example, New York's window for prosecuting cases of sexual assault was only five years. There is now no time limit for apprehending, arresting, and prosecuting rape in the first degree.


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Thus far, no police reports involving Weinstein have been filed in Los Angeles, reports the LA Times. Last year, California became the 17th state to pass a law to remove the statute of limitations on crimes of rape and sexual assault. However, this change isn't retroactive, meaning the window for reporting still exists in cases that took place before 2016; victims whose claims expired prior to then still cannot seek recourse.

Chelsea Byers, the chair of grassroots initiative End Rape Statute of Limitations, helped to abolish the California law, and is currently working to do the same in other states. In many cases, she tells Broadly, survivors need years, or even decades, to come forward because of shame and stigma. They may also fear retaliation, she says, if they feel their jobs or economic livelihood are at stake.

"This is Harvey Weinstein. I'll never work again and no one is going to care or believe me."

That was the case for many of the women who've recently gone public with their own accounts of being sexually harassed and assaulted by one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. In an interview with New York Times, for example, actress Katherine Kendall recalled telling herself, "This is Harvey Weinstein. I'll never work again and no one is going to care or believe me."

"Nobody wants to be a victim; nobody wants to be seen as less than," Byers says. "The second that somebody robs you of your personal autonomy by way of sexually assaulting you or raping you, or even harassing you, your autonomy is taken from you in a sense and all of a sudden your story is trauma-ridden."

Ending the statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault is "one huge piece" of addressing the sexual violence that permeates our culture, she says. Doing so would send the message to survivors "that we're not going to use our laws to shield predators."

Byers also points out that statutes of limitations are inconsistent across the country. "North Dakota has a three-year statute of limitation, and Colorado has 20 years for the same crime. In some states, like Arizona and Montana, they never implemented statutes of limitation in the first place. So now you're telling a victim who has power wielded against them in all sorts of ways that they have a certain amount of time, depending on where they live, before their crime no longer matters. Geography shouldn't make a difference."

To drive home how problematic these time limitations are, Byers brings up the scores of allegations of sexual assault against Bill Cosby. Between him and Weinstein, more than "a hundred women have had their lives completely reshaped at the hands of their power," she says. "Over 60 women have come out against Bill Cosby, and only one story will ever be heard in court because of expired statute of limitations."

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Lili Bernard, one of Cosby's accusers, testified at a Senate hearing last year in support of eliminating the statute of limitations in California. She told committee members that she was drugged and raped by Cosby in the early 1990s, and when she finally tried to press charges in New Jersey, where she alleges the assault happened, she was told she missed the deadline by a few months.

"War criminals, no matter how many decades have passed, cannot evade prosecution," Bernard told the Senate committee. "I am asking you to do the same thing for us, rape survivors, who survived the war upon our body."