A statute of limitations (SOL) sets the amount of time a victim or prosecutor has to file a lawsuit. Typically, if you file a lawsuit after the SOL expires, your case will be dismissed. Texas has different sexual abuse statutes of limitations in civil and criminal cases.
It is important to remember that the statute of limitations that applies is typically the one that was in place at the time of the abuse. This means that even though the SOL may have been lengthened since the incident, it will not renew an already time-barred claim.
In a civil lawsuit, a victim of sexual abuse demands compensation and damages from his or her abuser. You may be entitled to economic and non-economic damages, including compensation for your pain and suffering.
In 2015, a new Texas law dramatically changed the statute of limitations in some sex abuse-related civil cases. Under this law, you must file your civil claim within:
- Adult sexual assault: five years from the event,
- Child sexual assault: 15 years from the victim’s eighteenth birthday.
If the identity of the perpetrator is not known, a victim may file a “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” lawsuit. Once the identity of the suspect is known, you must amend your complaint to include his or her name within 30 days.
If sexual abuse occurs at your workplace, you may also have a sexual harassment lawsuit under federal law. You must file a complaint (or charge) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the harassment or abuse. The EEOC will investigate your claim and determine whether it will pursue a lawsuit on your behalf.
If it decides not to litigate your claim, it will issue a Right to Sue letter. You must file a federal lawsuit within 90 days of the EEOC’s Right to Sue letter. An employment lawyer can guide you through the EEOC complaint process and any related litigation.
Criminal cases are filed by the State of Texas on behalf of a victim. In order to file criminal charges, you must notify the authorities of the sexual abuse. Law enforcement will investigate your claims and a prosecutor may file charges against your abuser. If a suspect is found guilty of sexual criminal conduct, he or she may face significant jail time and registration as a sex offender.
For criminal cases, Texas does not have a statute of limitations for:
- Rape or aggravated rape;
- Rape where DNA evidence is collected, but a suspect cannot be immediately identified;
- Rape where the perpetrator is a suspected serial rapist; and
Sexual assault or indecency with a child.
In other words, these charges may be filed at any time. However, prosecution of sexual assault and other offenses (such as trafficking) involve a ten-year civil statute of limitations.
Sexual assaults and abuse claims are emotionally difficult. They also may involve a detailed legal analysis and strict procedural rules. A personal injury lawyer can guide you through the process, educate you about your rights, and offer emotional support. You may also want to file criminal charges with a law enforcement agency.
If you are facing sexual abuse charges and prosecution, a Texas criminal lawyer can help you understand your rights. Time is of the essence, so talk to an attorney as soon as possible.