Gateway Church’s Robert Morris sex abuse allegations should spur revival laws in Texas

Victims should have a period of time to file civil suits after the statute of limitations has expired.

Pastor Robert Morris applauds during a roundtable discussion at Gateway Church Dallas Campus on Thursday, June 11, 2020, in Dallas. A statement issued on Tuesday, June 18, 2024, said that Morris has resigned after a woman said he had abused her on multiple occasions in the 1980s, beginning when she was 12.(Alex Brandon / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Last week, Cindy Clemishire came forward with allegations of child sexual abuse by Pastor Robert Morris of Gateway Church. Morris did not deny the allegations. What Morris did is what many abusers do — minimize and soften the descriptions of his behavior. It was, as Morris said, “inappropriate sexual behavior with a young lady.”

It was more than “inappropriate.” If Clemishire’s allegations are true, it was criminal. And she was not a “young lady.” She alleges the abuse began when she was was 12.

A 12-year-old is generally in sixth or seventh grade. Her brain and body are still growing. Her permanent teeth are still emerging. She can’t drive, drink alcohol, smoke or vote. A 12-year-old is a child.

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men report being victims of sexual assault as children. Those numbers equal a shocking 11% of all children worldwide.

Because of these alarming numbers, many state legislatures are responding with commonsense reforms to statutes of limitations. Unfortunately, Texas isn’t one of them yet.

Presently, 19 states, two U.S. territories and the federal government have eliminated the statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. Twenty-nine states and three U.S. territories have passed revival legislation specifically for child sexual abuse cases. Those include nearby Louisiana, Arizonaand Arkansas. Revival laws give victims a period of time to file civil suits in cases where their abuse comes to light after the statute of limitations has expired.

That’s important because sexual abuse silences young victims, often for decades and sometimes even for a lifetime. Research suggests that most victims of childhood sexual abuse significantly delay disclosure or never report it at all.

The silence and delay are procedurally advantageous to the wrongdoer but not to the adult victims or children. Revival laws protect children because they lift the veil of cover-up and secrecy, and they expose hidden sexual predators. They also force institutions, by the fear of liability, to provide better child protection training, policies, procedures, and responses.

Sexual assault of a child is a unique type of civil wrong, certainly not one I studied in my first-year torts class in law school. The public policy purpose of statutes of limitations is ill-fitted for child sexual abuse claims. It just doesn’t make sense to reward the perpetrator with a shield for the very silence and shame-induced delay they create in their victims.

Where is Texas in this national movement to fully protect children by reviving child sexual abuse claims? Sadly, at the back of the class.

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