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ATLANTA — When Patti Kelly tried to tell police what had happened after she was kidnapped and raped, she couldn't do it, she said.

The hours following the attack for the 19-year-old were a blur. Police told her to go home and come back in a few days to give a statement.

“When I went back to my apartment I remember thinking, ‘how did I used to sit? What did I do with my arms? How did I stand?” She told CNHI. “You can't go from that to testifying in court.”

She wasn't ready to tell her story.

She wouldn't be ready for years.

And by the time she was able to talk about what had happened to her as a teenager, it was too late for justice. 

Lawmakers are pushing a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for reporting rape cases. Senate Bill 287, introduced by Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, would eliminate the statute of limitations for reporting aggravated sexual battery and aggravated sodomy.

Current law in Georgia limits rape reporting to 15 years after the crime is committed and shortens that to seven years for reporting aggravated sexual battery. 

Jones said the current law creates an “arbitrary line” for adults to report. He initially thought about creating a lengthened statute of limitations, but in the end, he said, it’s just another end date.

“There’s many reasons a person doesn’t come forward,” he told CNHI, “so I think eliminating the statute of limitations is the right thing to do.”

For Kelly, trying to repeat what happened to her was “excruciating.” Despite revisiting the place where it happened, describing her perpetrator for a composite drawing and picking him out of a line-up, police never made an arrest and she never knew why.

Sixteen years later, Kelly was finally about to talk about what happened and started asking questions about her case. But by that time, the statute of limitations for reporting and for DNA investigations had run out.

“I contacted the detectives and they said that they didn't arrest him because they didn't think I would be strong enough to stand up in court,” she said.

Criminal defense lawyers have spoken out against the bill, arguing that the years that pass between a crime and when it’s heard in court could make evidence less reliable and that there is no provision in the bill that requires a victim to explain why they waited to report.

Jennifer Bivins, president of the Georgia Sexual Assault Network, argued that the question of why someone waited to report comes up in every case as it is.

“I don’t care if it’s been a couple of days, two weeks, two years,” she said. “That already comes up.”

Jones told CNHI that the since evidence is less reliable over time, it favors the defense’s case.

“It certainly doesn’t make a bad case better,” he told CNHI. “If you have a good case, it might actually make it worse.”

Kelly said it takes time for victims to heal based on how much support and counseling they have and how much trauma they sustained. Removing the statute of limitations, she said, is “just the right thing to do” and sends a message to victims in Georgia that state officials care what they have been through.

“I won't ever see justice,” Kelly said. “He will never be arrested because of the statute. But it would feel like justice to have that removed.”

The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is in Senate Rules before it heads to the floor. Jones said he's "optimistic" it will be put up for a vote.

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