State Politics

Victims of child sex abuse might be given more time to sue abusers in Texas

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Tens of thousands of children are sexually abused every year.

Many stay quiet about it, avoiding confronting their attackers.

Maybe they don’t know what’s happening. Or they block it out or deny it, too scared to talk about it.

State Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, wants to give those children more time to step forward so when they are ready, as adults, they can report the crime — and file personal injury claims against those who hurt them.

“Currently, a person who is abused as a young child could still be in the presence of their family until after the statute of limitations expires or have repressed memories of these events ... come up after the expiration,” Goldman recently told a legislative committee.

He filed House Bill 3809 to extend the statute of limitations to file personal injury claims from childhood sexual abuse from 15 years to 30 years.

Supporters said this is especially needed at a time when one of every four girls — and one of every six boys — will be sexually abused before they are 18, according to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children.

More than 65,000 children were sexually abused in 2016, the society reports.

Becky Leach, wife of state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, recently spoke on behalf of the bill before the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

“I am a victim,” Becky Leach testified. “And I am not alone.”

She said she was molested between 12 and 18, but she “refused to acknowledge it.”

In fact, she said, she didn’t admit she was molested until nearly two decades after the alleged abuse ended.

That’s partly why she said Goldman’s bill is needed, to give others like herself enough time to step forward.

“It’s not a denial,” she said. “It’s a refusal to admit that this person who you most likely loved and trusted .... was the one doing this thing to harm you.”

“HB 3809 might be able to provide men and women who are not yet in a place to deal with their trauma of child abuse options for the future,” Becky Leach said.

Leach didn’t name the person who abused her. But her husband noted that, even if this bill passes, they don’t plan on taking advantage of the extended statute of limitations.

“It’s my hope that, with this bill, victims of sexual abuse will know without question that the Texas Legislature is behind them on this,” Jeff Leach said.

Texas lawmakers have until the end of their legislative session, May 27, to pass laws.

If this bill becomes law, it would go into effect Sept. 1.

“This one has been a bit under the radar, but it’s one of the most consequential sexual assault bills this session,” tweeted Chris Kaiser, policy director for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

No one testified against the bill.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.