Actions speak louder than words. But words create the environment and world in which we live. Our actions and words matter greatly — and the actions and words of the Montana Legislature in the 2019 session were clear: Montana will not allow sexual abuse, especially abuse of children, to continue.
We removed the statute of limitations allowing for criminal prosecution of sexual abuse against children and established a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Day. Sexual assault, including crimes such as rape and incest, is a cancer in society that for too long has gone inadequately addressed, unnoticed, and blatantly ignored. This has happened unfortunately at all levels, including within our schools, our families, and our court systems. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18.
A unified Montana made a statement with our actions and our words. We want to change the cultural norms that allow sexual assault and abuse to occur. During the 2019 session, the Legislature came together in a bipartisan way and sent a clear message that we value the safety of children and do not tolerate children being sexually abused. Removing the criminal statute of limitations means that when an adult sexually abuses a child, the offender can never escape criminal liability. Every day for the rest of that adult's life, he is at risk of being arrested, having criminal charges filed, and being put in prison after conviction in court of the crime against the child.
The Legislature set the bar even higher, leading the nation by being the first state to establish Sexual Assault Survivors' Day, occurring on the first Thursday in April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month). This day will not only honor survivors but, in addition, raise awareness of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and discrimination. It is a chance for communities to increase education about these problems and how to prevent them. I was honored to carry House Resolution 4, cosponsored by numerous Democrats and Republicans, establishing this special day.
Montanans are fiercely independent and we require accountability from all individuals. This session, our collaborative actions made a statement: Montana will not allow sexual assault and sexual abuse to go unnoticed, unreported or ignored. We hold other members of society accountable for their actions and will work to make our community safer.
No child should have to fear she or he will be sexually abused by anyone. No perpetrator of this crime should be able to mark a day on a calendar knowing he has no more responsibility after that date because the criminal statute of limitations has ended. Montana has emerged as the national leader by declaring Sexual Assault Survivors’ Day. Hopefully, other states will follow suit, learn a little from Montana law, and the rest of the nation will look a bit more like Montana.