Texas lawmakers are considering expanding the statute of limitations for lawsuits seeking damages related to sexual abuse, the Houston Chronicle reports. The Texas bill protecting sexual abuse survivors was championed in part by three women who accused Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics (USAG) doctor, of abuse.
“Texas lawmakers have a moral duty to allow survivors like myself to hold everyone who played a role in the abuse accountable,” said former U.S national team gymnast Jordan Schwikert, per the Chronicle. Schwikert and her sister, a fellow gymnast, say that Nassar sexually abused them while pretending to perform legitimate medical procedures.
Schwikert and her sister Tasha Schwikert, an Olympic bronze medalist, understand such lawsuits firsthand. The pair are currently suing USAG and other groups, NBC News reports, arguing that the organizations fostered an environment where sexual abuse was allowed to persist. (“The organization has undergone significant reforms in the wake of his horrific acts that have impacted our athletes and community forever,” USAG said in a statement after the lawsuit was announced, per the Seattle Times.)
On Monday, the sisters, accompanied by gymnast Alyssa Baumann, testified before the Texas Senate regarding the bill. Baumann, who is involved in a separate lawsuit, says that Nassar assaulted her more than 40 times over the course of three years, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Nassar has pleaded guilty to child pornography and sexual assault charges and is currently in prison. In total, he was accused of sexually assaulting 265 women under the guise of providing medical treatment.
If passed in its current state, the Chronicle reports, the Texas bill would allow survivors to file suits against their abusers at any time until they turn 48 years old. As it stands now, Texas law allows victims to seek damages until they are 33, 15 years after they turn 18, per the Chronicle. However, the paper reports, there has a been a bit of indecision regarding whether that expanded time frame should also include outside organizations.
Initially, the Texas Tribune reports, the bill would have expanded the statute of limitations for survivors seeking damages against both abusers and organizations that were involved in some way with the alleged sexual abuse. But state Rep. Craig Goldman reportedly removed the bit that extended the statute for suing organizations. The Schwikert sisters, as well as Baumann, advocated for re-instituting the original language.
“Exempting institutions creates a world in which the cycle of abuse can continue,” Schwikert said on Monday, per the Tribune. “It’s not enough to just hold abusers accountable — we must also look at the institutions and what they failed to do.”
Earlier this month, Goldman told the Chronicle that he removed the part allowing survivors to sue outside organizations for an additional 15 years because "sexual assault is not something organizations do, it’s what individuals do."
"Any employer in the state can employ somebody and not know that they have done this in their past," Goldman said.
There has been a move to restore the bill to its previous state, wherein survivors may sue both abusers and institutions until they turn 48 years old, per the Tribune. However, a Senate committee will have to approve those changes.
In the meantime, the three women made clear that they believe survivors should be given ample time when deciding whether or not they want to take legal action against their alleged abusers.
“I decided to testify today because I wanted to make sure that what happened to me and my sister never happens again," Schwikert said Monday.