AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Three survivors of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar pleaded with lawmakers at the Texas Capitol Monday to approve legislation that aims to hold individuals and institutions, who knew or reasonably should have known about child sexual abuse conduct, accountable.
“I was abused so many times by Nassar in the state of Texas that it is hard to calculate,” Alyssa Baumann told legislators on the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs.
Baumann, a Plano native, said Nassar’s abuse took place until 2015.
“It took a long time to face what happened and it will take even longer for me to overcome,” she said. “I want to help prevent this from happening to children in the future and allow parents to be able to trust that organization.”
Tasha Schwikert, a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, and her sister, Jordan Schwikert, a former U.S. national team member, sat alongside Baumann and detailed how Nassar abused them under the guise of providing medical treatment.
“How was Larry able to abuse so many children for so long?” Tasha asked. “That blame lays at the feet of USA Gymnastics. They were the enablers.”
Currently, Texas’ statute of limitations for a personal injury claim that arises from child sexual abuse is 15 years. House Bill 3809, filed by State Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, doubles that and would allow an individual to bring forward a civil suit against an individual or individuals who committed the conduct within 30 years after they turn 18 years old.
A committee substitute to the bill, filed by State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, includes the possibility for survivors to seek a civil suit against an individual or entity that “employed, supervised or exhibited control over an individual who committed the conduct at the time the conduct was committed” and “knew or reasonably should have known about the conduct.”
Watson said he added the changes back in through this committee substitute after his office heard concerns that organizations wouldn’t be held accountable for enabling child sexual abuse to occur in the version of the bill that left the Texas House, which was also reported by The Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle.
“For me, this bill is about three things: survivor empowerment, justice and prevention,” Watson told the committee. “All three are dependent on accountability, not just for the individual child molester, but also for any organization that hid the abuse. All employers and organizations, particularly those that work with children, have a duty to implement prevention policies and report suspected child abuse in accordance with existing law.”
Jordan, who is now a gymnastics coach, urged committee lawmakers to accept Watson’s committee substitute.
“I want to protect the young kids I coach because USA Gymnastics did not protect me,” she said. “For so long, USA Gymnastics turned a blind eye to allegations of sexual abuse by Nassar. Accountability is the only real path to change and we must stand together to demand it.”
Nassar’s case has led to other criminal charges against leaders for their handling of sexual misconduct complaints against him, including former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon and former MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Ann Klages.
Some other states are acting on this issue, too. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation Monday that allows those who were sexually abused as a child until they turn 55 or within seven years of realizing they were abused to file a lawsuit. The legislation in New Jersey also gives survivors who were previously blocked from suing their alleged offenders two years to bring their case forward.
Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a prominent tort reform group that registered against the bill, issued an emailed statement regarding the organization’s concerns with the committee substitute.
“TLR strongly supports children who are victims of sexual abuse and efforts to ensure they receive justice against their abusers,” Lucy Nashed, a spokesperson for TLR, said. “As it was passed unanimously by the Texas House, HB 3809 is a measured and effective approach to expanding the rights of victims of sexual abuse. Sen. Watson’s committee substitute, however, dramatically changes the bill, creating undefined standards that impose liability on a broad range of individuals and entities, whether or not they were actually aware of the abuse. We are concerned with the combination of the extended statute of limitations, vicarious liability on a perpetrator’s employer or coworkers, a “should have known” standard in imposing that liability and treble damages.”
State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, also told Watson during the committee meeting that some of the concerns might be due to the language in his substitute.
“I think there is a desire by some to look at the institutions,” Huffman said. “But I think in all honesty, the ‘should have known’ language might be broader than what we can do.”
Watson told Huffman he’d explore the possibility of tightening up the language.
“I’m happy to sit down and I know there are other members of the committee who have interest in this who’d be happy to sit down and see if we can’t get somewhere on that,” she said.