Sexual abuse is one of the most tragic crimes, whether it occurred to you as an adult or as a child. The damage done to you and others can include severe emotional, psychological, and even physical trauma. It can also negatively affect your financial health because of lost work and medical bills. You may be entitled to file a civil sexual abuse lawsuit against your attacker to hold them financially accountable for your harm.
There are, however, specific time limitations you must follow. These time limitations limit how long you have to file your sexual abuse claim in Texas.
What Is Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse includes any nonconsensual sexual act you suffer from an attacker. It includes many types of sexual activity, including unwanted physical contact of private areas and a forcible sexual attack.
These attacks occur when you do not consent to the acts perpetrated against you, including:
- Groping or unwanted touching of private areas, either above or underneath the clothing
- Unwanted sexual penetration, oral sex, or anal sex
- Attacks by a family member, teacher, coach, or clergy member
- Sexual abuse when the victim was a child
- Sexual abuse against those who cannot consent, such as children, the mentally infirm, or incapacitated individuals
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
There are specific time limits that apply to both criminal and civil sexual abuse lawsuits. These time limits are called statutes of limitations. They restrict how long you have to file your complaint in court. If you fail to file your claim by the applicable statute of limitations, the trial court will likely dismiss your lawsuit as untimely. This could mean you cannot file your case, even if you would have won had you filed on time.
What is the purpose of a statute of limitations? The concept seems unfair to many, and there is sometimes some truth to that. However, there are three primary reasons statutes of limitations exist:
- If a victim has a valid case, they should bring the case within a reasonable time period.
- Bringing allegations long after they occurred could result in unjust results.
- Filing a lawsuit far after the events will cause the loss of valuable and necessary evidence to prove or defend the case.
Ultimately, these limitations exist, regardless of anyone’s opinions of them. In the area of sexual abuse, however, moods have changed.
Time Limitations in Criminal Sexual Abuse Cases
A criminal case is different and separate from a civil cause of action for sexual abuse. A state prosecutor files a criminal case against the defendant. The charges seek punishment through fines and prison time. The primary purpose of a criminal case is not to compensate the victim but to punish the offender.
Under Texas criminal law, there is no statute of limitations period for the following crimes:
- Continuous sexual abuse of a child
- Aggravated sexual assault of a child
- Sexual assault of a child
- Indecency with a child
A statute of limitations for other sex crimes against children occurs 20 years from the date the child turns 18 years old. For adults, most sexual abuse crimes are limited to 10 years from the date the incident occurred. This issue has many nuances, and longer or shorter periods may apply to your case. For criminal lawsuits, you can speak to your local prosecutor or law enforcement about the sexual abuse to learn more.
Time Limitations in Civil Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
A civil sexual abuse lawsuit pursues financial compensation from the attacker. It is separate from the criminal case and has its own statutes of limitations. Over the last few years, the statute of limitations periods have changed.
Prior to 2019, most victims of sexual abuse only had 15 years from their 18th birthday to file their civil lawsuit. After the rise of the #MeToo movement and efforts to hold abusers responsible for acts against children, many states lengthened the statute of limitations or dissolved it altogether. Texas extended the statute of limitations for sexual abuse victims so they could file their personal injury cases much later than before.
House Bill 3809 now permits victims to file their civil sexual abuse lawsuit 30 years after their 18th birthday. The act became effective on September. 1, 2019. This means that victims have until they reach 48 years old to file their lawsuit. Victims now have much more time to file their lawsuits and hold their alleged abusers accountable.
In addition to suing the abuser, the victim can seek compensation from entities or institutions that perpetuated that sexual abuse. This might include organizations such as:
- Schools and universities
- Community organizations
These changes empower sexual abuse victims to hold their attackers accountable. It helps them pursue the compensation they are owed to help get their lives back on track.
What if My Assault Happened Before September 1, 2019?
Even cases that occurred before 2019 may be eligible for the new 30-year time limit. The new limitations period applies if:
- The incident which gives rise to your allegations occurred before September 1, 2019
- The statute of limitations in place at the time of the incident has not yet passed
For example, if you were sexually assaulted on January 8, 2018, the previous 15-year statute of limitations period had not yet passed when the new law took effect. Therefore, the new 30-year statute of limitations period applies.
If your attack happened in the last few years, or many years ago, you can still speak with a sexual abuse attorney to learn if your case is still viable. Several exceptions may pause the statute of limitations, or your case could still be permitted under current law.
Pursue Compensation With a Civil Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
The statute of limitations is often a confusing aspect of the legal system for many victims. If you were sexually abused, you have the right to speak to someone and hold your attacker responsible. You can report the crime to the authorities and speak to an experienced sexual abuse attorney to learn more.