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How Texas laws protect sexually abused children

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SAN ANTONIO – The sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church dates back decades, but the laws to combat sex assault have changed over the years in Texas.

On Thursday, Texas Catholic leaders released a list of 286 clergy members credibly accused of abusing children.

How long are victims protected under the law?

Under criminal law, the statute of limitations is 10 years for adults who have been sexually assaulted.

A statute of limitations is a window of time that a state has to charge the alleged abuser.

Under Jessica's Law, there is no statute of limitations for children who are sexually abused if the incident happened after 2007, according to Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales.

If the offense happened before Sept. 1, 2007, but the limitation period for that offense has not expired, then the statute of limitations under Jessica's Law will apply, allowing the state to prosecute, according to Gonzales.

Certain offenses have a different statute of limitations -- for example, offenses of sexual performance of a child and kidnapping or burglary of a habitation with intent to commit sexual offense against a child. Victims in those cases have 20 years after their 18th birthday to file criminal charges.

"Children don't have a voice," Dayla Pepi, a civil law professor at St. Mary's University School of Law, said. "They need somebody to advocate for them."

Under civil law, victims have 15 years to file a lawsuit from the time of the incident unless the victim was a minor.

If the abuse happened to a minor, the statute of limitations doesn't begin to run until their 18th birthday.

Each case is different. If you believe you've been a victim of sexual abuse, call the district attorney's office in the county in which you reside to see what protections you have.

 

This story has been updated to include the correct information regarding the statute of limitations for criminal cases.


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