Long dormant claims have more of cruelty than justice in them. – Halsbury’s Laws of England
As children, we were told that serious infractions might go on our “permanent record”, which certainly sounds ominous to a misbehaving ten-year-old. But despite being the subject of jokes by generations of comedians, there really was no such thing until some alliance of sociopaths decided it was a good idea to put armed thugs in grammar schools to arrest children too young to spell the word “arrest” for offenses that when I was a lass might’ve been punished by writing lines, staying after school or (at worst) having one’s parents called by the principal. Oh, there might be a formal disciplinary record in the principal’s office of that school, and in more recent times it might even be shared with other schools in the same district or diocese. But all that was required to escape its baneful shadow was a move to a different town, and in any case its effects would have no influence after graduation.
Until recently, the adult world was rather like that as well; cops and other lawmen were constrained both by borders and by time, and one might escape their clutches either by crossing into another country or by staying out of trouble long enough to exceed the statute of limitations. The latter is one of the most noble, sane ideas ever conceived by rulers, ranking not far behind presumption of innocence; such statutes are intended to encourage those with just complaints to report them in a timely manner, while evidence might still be found and witnesses might still have strong memories of the events in question. In the English common law tradition, the only crime which usually has no statute of limitations is murder, because A) the effects are both severe and permanent; and B) because “murder victims can’t report the crime committed against them, and hence have no control over when it is discovered.” Another good argument for such statutes is the same one I’ve used to argue that it’s better a thousand criminals go free than one innocent person be wrongfully imprisoned: if a true criminal is unrepentant, he will provide the state with numerous opportunities to catch him again, and if he regrets his crime and lives an exemplary life afterward, what would be the point of punishing him when one of the supposed purposes of the “corrections system” (its Orwellian name in many countries) is reform? If a person who is truly guilty of a crime spends the entire period of a statute of limitations living an exemplary life, society is far better served than it would’ve been by bearing the considerable social and economic expense of trial and lengthy incarceration, resulting in an unemployable outcast who often has little choice but to commit other crimes to support himself (and, if he has children, inflicting damage on them as well).
And yet in recent years, we’ve seen the schoolchild’s “permanent record” nightmare become a reality. Computerized records can be shared internationally, making it far more difficult to escape the clutches of vengeful “authorities” whether the charges they allege are just or not. Even after sentences are served, those upon whom they were inflicted are burdened with lifelong consequences as impossible to escape as a brand on the forehead; they may be forever denied jobs and excluded from social institutions, and if their crimes were supposedly “sexual” (a loose distinction indeed in the US, considering that even public urination can fall under its umbra) they may be consigned to pariah status forever, unable even to live among their fellow humans. Anti-sex hysteria has become so severe that California is now trying to do away with the statute of limitations for rape; given the difficulty of proving even recent rape accusations, this will help absolutely nobody. All it will do is allow a stain to be thrown on people’s reputations long after any evidence is gone. And lest you think this isn’t that big a deal, consider the case of Nate Parker, who was tried and exonerated 17 years ago, and yet is being called a “rapist” in the national media because some “feminists” can’t stand the fact that a woman’s unproven accusation wasn’t enough to completely destroy his life forever, and now he’s become an acclaimed filmmaker.
Do you really want to live in a world where everyone must suffer the consequences of every mistake, act of desperation, bad decision, foolish choice and even false accusation forever, without any hope of escape no matter how blameless his life is after that? Because I don’t. I’ve been raped, several times, and you know what? I DON’T FUCKING THINK THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON RAPE SHOULD BE REPEALED. Nor do I think every man accused of the crime should instantly be presumed guilty, nor that the shadow of one accusation should follow him forever no matter what he does (multiple accusations spanning years or decades are a different matter, to be discussed another day). Not only is this vile and unjust; not only does it increase the power of the carceral state; it also sets an extremely dangerous precedent. Men aren’t the only ones who can be accused of rape, and rape isn’t the only “sex crime”; what if some sociopathic politician decides to out-California California by removing the statute of limitations on all sex crimes (which, as we have seen, can include prostitution, “sexting”, teen sex and pissing by a dumpster)? Once a precedent is established there is no stopping power-mad lunatics from taking that and running with it. The dismantling of laws that protect individuals from tyranny needs to be stopped at the beginning if it’s going to be stopped at all, and when it’s you being arrested for something somebody claims you did sometime during the Reagan administration, don’t say I didn’t warn you.