Having such a rule in place would hurt both the person falsely accused of rape and the person who wishes to come clean of their accusation.
I have seen this come in waves on social media: S/he put that person in prison for six years and is just now saying the rape wasn’t true. S/he should be jailed for that! Yes, they should be held accountable for saying it did not take place. Yes, it is horrible that the person who was accused faced jail time and lost a part of their lives. But recanting a statement of rape cannot result in punishment for that person.
In a more famous case, Brian Banks was recently released from jail at the age of 26, after being accused of rape at the age of 16. He was let out of prison, and is now still able to pursue an NFL career. Immediately, calls for the accuser to face jail time were heard, and are still heard even today. Fortunately, the man was able to pursue a football career, which was his original dream. There are many whose lives were destroyed, and they still live with the stigma of being accused– even though they were found innocent.
Some of the items that prevent a proper defense are often items such as a lack of resources behind rape kits, which can often prove a person’s innocence. Others can include outside influence, like race or religious bias (in both a positive and negative way). But at the end, the knowledge between two people is often the only form of testimony. Because of this, we cannot punish those who willingly recant their accusation. If we do, we face a daunting consequence:
A person is less likely to pull back their accusation if they know they will be punished.
This is not to say that those who are investigated separately and found to be lying shouldn’t be punished. Any person who uses rape as a card to punish another person should definitely face consequences if found out. Keeping a lie should be grounds for punishment. Coming out about a lie does not negate the lie. But it is a better action to take than not coming out at all. If the accuser had not pulled back their accusation, Brian Banks would still be sitting in jail. They would have been less likely to do so if they knew they’d face a punishment.
So, what do we do to ensure justice prevails?
Firstly, allocate resources to processing rape kits. An investigation in 2014 revealed that there are more than 400,000 rape kits in backlogs across the United States. Consider that the average rape prison sentence is 9.8 years. If even one quarter of rape kits hold innocence for the accused, that still comes out to 980,000 years of combined prison sentencing for those who are innocent. This is a startling equation, and even if we cut the amount down, we can multiply that by ten and still find startling numbers.
Secondly, we must teach– and make resources available for– people to come forward immediately about rape. Many victims of rape often feel ashamed, and may decide against help. They were victims, and should be helped as much as possible. However, the reason we need this is because:
The statute of limitations regarding rape should be reduced. Combined with available resources and a culture showing that a rape victim can come forward, we can ensure time-sensitive details are obtained. This will also ensure that the healing process can be started as quickly as possible, and any false accusations can be squashed immediately. Most states have a statute of limitations of ten years or less. Even with half that time, a person accused of rape can face a social stigma, and in many cases, threats on their lives. They may face these deservedly, or they may truly be innocent. But it is much harder to defend one’s self when accused five or ten years down the road. Having a long statute of limitations doesn’t protect the accused, which is as important as protecting a victim in a judicial system as ours.
We as a nation, and certainly much of the world, have come far in how rape is handled. But we need to continue to pursue it vigilantly, intelligently and without bias outside of evidence. If we do, we will ease a scary situation. It will be easier for all involved, and ensure proper justice.