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Sexual abuse survivors advocate outside Texas Capitol for statute of limitations reform

(CBS Austin image)
(CBS Austin image)
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On Wednesday, survivors of child sexual abuse stood on the steps of the Texas State Capitol advocating for change.

They’re supporting several bills filed this session that they say will help change the statute of limitations to allow more civil action to be taken against perpetrators.

Survivors spoke about the abuse they say they endured at gymnastics, boy scouts, and cheerleading organizations. “I grew up and I moved on with my life but I gotta tell you, that in certain ways I've never moved on,” said Dr. Anne Whitney, who says she was abused by her gymnastics coach beginning at age 10. Dr. Whitney now teaches at Penn State.

One person sharing their story is Jessica Gerlacher, from Frisco, Texas. She says she and her twin sister suffered abuse at the hands of their cheerleading coach. They’re currently in the middle of a civil lawsuit over the alleged abuse. “I just want to make sure that all of these survivors have the chance to get the justice they deserve. For me, the statute of limitations has not run out, but if it did, it would be incredibly disheartening,” said Gerlacher.

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Michelle Simpson Tuegel is a lawyer who handles sexual assault and abuse cases. She’s speaking in support of House Bill 206 and Senate Bill 751. “The average age as survivor of child sexual abuse comes forward is 52 years old,’ said Tuegel.

She’s also speaking against House Bill 4601 authored by State Representative Jeff Leach. “That bill protects institutions and does not allow parents to know the information about child predators through the civil justice system,” said Tuegel.

Gerlacher says it was not easy to speak out today, but adding more protections through legislation and reforming the statute of limitations is crucial to ensuring survivors are put first, regardless of their age.

“It's a lot mentally as a survivor to be here and to relive all of this and it kind of just plays in the back of your mind, you know, throughout the rest of the week after all this happens,” said Gerlacher, “but I think it's important to be here, especially as a younger voice here.”

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CBS Austin reached out to Representative Leach, who is the author of HB 4601. We will update this story when we hear back.

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