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Answer Line: Beware of statute of limitations on sex assaults

Dec. 27, 2017 at 10:44 p.m.


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: We noticed that Hunan is closed, and the sign indicates it is for lease. Last time we were in there, Jimmy Su said the new owners would be taking over soon. Also, there was an article in the paper about it. Do you know if we will ever get Hunan back?

A: It appears Hunan is closed for good. Longtime Hunan owner Jimmy Su had retired and passed the restaurant on to a new owner. I spoke to Su's son, Jimmy Su Jr., and the building's owner this week, and they said the new owner closed the restaurant on North High Street a couple of weeks after taking over.

A new Korean restaurant is expected to open there in February or March, but it will not be Hunan.

— Answer Line appears Thursday and Saturday. 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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