Texas enacted sex assault legislation. Consent wasn’t defined 2023

A state task group on sexual assault legislation issued Texas legislators 12 suggestions to help survivors and prevent sex crimes before this year’s legislative session.

Nearly all of them were implemented, including trauma-informed training for police and millions for sexual assault prevention. The task panel recommended updating state law to properly define consent to “provide clear protection for victims of sexual assault in circumstances not explicitly covered by current Texas law.” They failed to do so.

“We believe very strongly that if we could reform our consent statute… conviction rates would go up, perpetrators would be held accountable,” said Elizabeth Boyce, director of policy and advocacy at the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, a task force member. “Survivors would fare better, and juries would learn more.”

House Bill 2696 passed 111-34 but never had a Senate hearing. It would have clarified that a person commits sexual assault if they know “or reasonably should know” that the other person is ignorant, has withdrawn permission, or is inebriated.

Sexual assault is defined as force, violence, compulsion, or threats. “This definition does not encompass the many different situations in which an assault can occur,” the legislative analysis adds.

“That perpetrator gets to walk away and say, ‘Ha, gotcha,”

The Institute for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault says amended language would help prosecutors prosecute sexual assault cases, which are underreported and underprosecuted.

This legislative session has shining moments. Advocates were delighted for the state’s historic $33 billion surplus, which largely funded victims programs. Other task force suggestions, including one to extend membership, were highly accepted.

The 2019 Legislature established the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force in the governor’s office. It includes advocacy, state, public safety, and medical organizations.

It must now include one adult sexual assault survivor, one adult child sexual abuse survivor, or the parent of a child victim, and a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services representative.

Other suggestions include granting assault victims the right to a forensic evaluation and medical compensation.

Statute of limitations unchanged.

Outside of the task force recommendations, senators did not examine a measure to repeal the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims, which would have allowed survivors of all ages to sue their abusers and the institutions that protected them.

The Texas Legislature extended the civil statute of limitations in 2019, allowing survivors up to 48 to sue for damages, although the amendment did not retroactively apply. Advocates and survivors wanted a measure to abolish the statute of limitations this year.

A 2021 measure without bipartisan backing was never heard. State Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasantville, who carried the bill in the Senate, supported the move this year.

Michelle Simpson Tuegel, a sexual abuse attorney, said it was “disheartening and disappointing” that survivors couldn’t share their stories in a legislative hearing, “particularly when legislators hold up the safety of children on other issues as being of utmost importance to them.”

According to Child USA, almost two dozen states and territories have reopened sex abuse accusations. Most of them have either repealed the statute of limitations or provided a “look-back” window for a year or two.

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