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Answer Line: Reporting sex assault has time limit | Answer Line | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey


Editor’s note: This column was originally published in 2017:

QUESTION: With all the incidents coming to light about all the sexual abuse situations, where or who would one contact to let them know they were abused by a person of higher power? Is there a statute? It’s something that happened in my early 20s, some 37 years ago, but I still feel shame from it, and I just would like “someone” to know that this highly respected person was also a sexual predator.

ANSWER: This breaks my heart for you, and I’m sorry to say that so many years have passed that there don’t appear to be many options available to you under the legal system.

I’ll start by explaining that Texas criminal statutes don’t specifically mention workplace situations in its definitions of sexual assaults. The law focuses on consent, the methods one person might have used to force another person to submit to the assault or the age of the victim. Whether an incident is classified as a sexual assault would depend on the specifics of the situation and how they compare to the specifics of the law. (You can find more information by reading Title 5, Chapter 22 of the Texas Penal Code.)

After that, though, there is a statute of limitation that prevents prosecution of a sexual assault after a certain amount of time has passed. In Texas, no limitation exists for sexual assault of children and in a few other specific circumstances. Otherwise, the statute of limitations is 10 years. If what happened to you fits the definition of a sexual assault, it seems it’s likely the statute of limitations has expired in this instance.

The Texas Workforce Commission and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission separately investigate complaints of workplace sexual harassment. However, generally speaking, employment discrimination complaints must be filed within 180 days. Here’s what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website says on the issue:

”Harassment can take the form of slurs, graffiti, offensive or derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct. Sexual harassment (including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other conduct of a sexual nature) is also unlawful. Although the law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not serious, harassment is illegal if it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or if it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”

Both commissions advise people who believe they are victims of sexual harassment to follow similar steps: tell the person to stop and follow the company’s anti-harassment policy (if there is one) to file a complaint. Look for a copy of the policy on the company’s website or ask the human resources department for a copy; if there’s no policy, complain to a supervisor. You also can complain to the Texas Workforce Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. For information visit www.twc.state.tx.us/jobseekers/sex-discrimination or www.eeoc.gov/employees/charge.cfm .

While your avenues of legal recourse might be closed, the Women’s Center of East Texas has other resources available to help you.

Maribel Vazquez, bilingual advocate for the Women’s Center, explained that the organization offers free counseling and other resources that could assist you. Call the Women’s Center of East Texas hotline at (800) 441-5555.

I think key in all of this is that women who have been sexually assaulted or who believe they have been sexually harassed at work should not wait to take action. Report the assault or sexual harassment immediately so as not to lose any options of legal recourse.

Q: Is there burial or funeral assistance available after the death of a disabled person who receives government benefits and does not work?

A: I’ve found at least a couple of possibilities. In Gregg County (and you’ll likely find similar programs elsewhere), the Gregg County Health Department pays for cremations for indigent county residents who die in the county and who meet certain guidelines.

The person’s next of kin must fill out an application to determine if the deceased person qualifies, including the family signing a notarized statement that the family cannot pay for the costs. Income requirements and other considerations would factor into the decision about whether the deceased person qualifies, and the county would choose the funeral home where the cremation would take place inside Gregg County.

Medicare and Medicaid do not provide any assistance in this kind of situation, but Social Security provides a lump-sum death payment of $255 to a surviving spouse, unmarried child younger than 18 or a disabled adult child in certain situations.

For information, visit www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/.

— Answer Line appears Wednesday and in the Weekend edition. Email questions to answerline@news-journal.com, leave a message at (903) 232-7208 or write to P.O. Box 1792, Longview, TX 75606.





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