Candles burning inside of a church

The Catholic Church has held much of the spotlight for its widespread coverup of child molestation. However, any child or adolescent of any faith can be at risk. The lack of background checks for congregants and unsupervised access, combined with the trusting nature of children, puts churchgoing kids of all faiths at particular risk.

Just last year, a 21-year-old Jehovah’s Witness from the Kingdom Hall in San Antonio was charged with molesting seven children between the ages of 3 and 10 whom he met through the congregation. Some of the abuses date as far back as 2012. According to The Atlantic, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have maintained, for at least two decades, a hidden database of child molesters within their ranks, likely numbering in the tens of thousands. While it is difficult to gain access to these sealed files, it is not impossible.

In addition to pursuing criminal charges through the police and District Attorney’s office, it is also possible to sue in civil court. Victims can seek compensation for emotional pain and suffering, the cost of mental health counseling, loss of productivity, loss of intimacy, and loss of enjoyment in life.

The first step is to contact a Dallas personal injury attorney with experience in childhood sexual abuse cases at Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP. Our consultations are always free and our representation contingency-based, so you only pay for our services if and when we successfully recover compensation on your behalf.

Were you sexually abused by a Jehovah’s Witness?

The legal definition of sexual abuse is covered by Texas Penal Code 22.011 when a person intentionally or knowingly “causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent; causes the penetration of the mouth of another person by the sexual organ of the actor, without that person’s consent; causes the sexual organ of another person, without that person’s consent, to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person.”

A child is considered any person under 17 and may not under any circumstances “give consent” for sexual activity. Regardless of whether the person knows the age of the child or not, any inappropriate, predatory behavior is classified as the sexual assault of a minor.

Consent cannot be given in cases where the actor uses force, violence, coercion, threats, weaponry, or intoxicating substances to subdue the victim. Specifically, individuals cannot give their consent to actors who are “clergyman who causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on a spiritual adviser.” Depending on the specifics of the crime, charges can be second-degree felonies punishable by two to 20 years in prison and fines up to $10,000 per abuse.

Even if no physical contact is made, Texas Penal Code Section 33.021 makes it illegal to solicit a minor for sex online or to possess child pornography, which is comparably punishable by two to 20 years in jail. 

Can you hold the church liable for sexual abuse?

Texas law allows civil lawsuit filings against a number of parties:

  • The individual Jehovah’s Witness offender
  • Anyone within the organization who had knowledge or suspicion of the abuse, but failed to report
  • Watchtower, the parent corporation of the Jehovah’s Witness congregation

Obviously, a sexual abuser can be held liable for hurting a child. However, these individuals may not have the money to fully compensate the victims for the damage caused. In most cases, Dallas sexual assault victim lawyers advise victims to include a broader scope of liability in their lawsuit. This means holding church leaders (and the parent companies that insure them) accountable for hiring, supervising, and the retention practices that allow child molesters access to children.

Section 261.101 of the Texas Family Code includes a mandatory reporter provision. It requires anyone who works with children– including members of church groups– responsible for reporting instances of known or suspected child abuse (mental, physical, or emotional) to local law enforcement or the Department of Family Protective Services for further investigation. Those who fail to do so can receive a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $4,000. Simply reporting to a supervisor is insufficient. 

Did you suffer a loss?

Crowe Arnold & Majors Dallas sexual assault victim lawyers work with a wide range of professionals and outside experts who can help evaluate your sexual abuse claim. The end goal of civil court is to help crime victims “become whole again,” financially.

Unlike most personal injury cases that result in obvious medical bills, the suffering of sexual assault victims is often untallied. What price tag does one place on anxiety, depression, PTSD, nightmares, insomnia, eating disorders, substance abuse problems, memory and focus problems, the inability to be in a normal loving relationship, difficulties in the workplace, or any of the other adverse effects of child sexual abuse? With a good personal injury lawyer who understands sexual assault law, you can prove your legal right to compensation.

Statute of limitations for filing a sexual abuse lawsuit in Texas

Whether you are within the state-mandated deadline to pursue a legal claim is a primary concern in a Texas sexual abuse case. Though a victim’s suffering knows no limits, the rights of the accused must also be protected. It can be nearly impossible to exonerate oneself after a certain amount of time has passed, at which point memories fade, witnesses die, and evidence is destroyed. If a filed claim does not fall within the statute of limitations for sexual abuse in Texas, then the judge could summarily dismiss the case outright.

Contact us for a free consultation

As of September 1, 2019, victims have until age 48 to come forward with allegations of child sexual abuse. Victims abused before that date have until age 33. The laws are always changing, and it’s possible a lookback window will open as in states like California or New York, which would allow victims a year or more to revive their cases, regardless of when the alleged abuse took place. Therefore, it is always best to call a Dallas sexual abuse victim lawyer at Crowe Arnold & Majors for a free consultation to explore your legal options.