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Featured, seated from left: Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, fields questions on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives from Steve Taylor, the publisher and editor of the online publication, The Rio Grande Guardian.

Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY

Children who are victims of sexual assault now have 15 years instead of five years to bring civil lawsuits against alleged sex offenders or others who are liable for the injuries sustained as a result of such crimes, said Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, who supported House Bill 189, which became state law on September 1, 2015. House Bill 189, which was approved by the Legislature late last spring, also removed any statute of limitations on the criminal prosecution of suspected serial rapists, whether their victim is a child or an adult. “I have a proven record in the Texas Legislature of supporting the creation of laws, policies, and new funding that protect crime victims and prosecute criminals,” said Muñoz. “I have no pity for rapists, child molesters, or other sexual predators, and I never place the blame of these victims because it is never their fault.” Prior to the passage of HB 189, there was a 10-year statute of limitations in the criminal prosecution of sex offenders who were considered serial rapists. A statute of limitations is generally defined as a law that sets a time limit for bringing certain kinds of legal action. Sexual assault is generally defined as any unwanted, non-consensual sexual contact against any individual by another. In 2014, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there were 18,756 sexual assaults in the state, an increase of 5.1 percent over 2013. House Bill 189, effective September 1, 2015, was needed because of the seriousness of these crimes and the special circumstances that can limit when these victims are ready to speak out about the crime, according to the bill analysis by the House Research Organization. Despite these circumstances, a measure of justice always should be available to victims of these crimes, the HRO report stated. “The significance of HB 189 removing the statute of limitations for serial rape cases is well-documented in the bill analysis,” Muñoz emphasized. “The House Research Organization noted that his vital new protection is tremendously important for fighting sexual assault and violence against women because it encourages survivors to come forward to report their cases, preventing those convicted from attacking again.” Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, the author of HB 189, provided some of her key perspectives soon after she first filed the legislation on November 10, 2014, which was approved by the Legislature on June 1, 2015, and signed into law by the governor on June 18, 2015. “Rape is a horrible crime that is not only physical but mental,” said Thompson. “According to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, sexual assault is a crime in which the assailant uses sexual contact to inflict humiliation or to exert power and control over the victim. Currently, there are 1.8 million survivors of sexual assault in Texas.” As for the civil lawsuit aspects of HB 189, Muñoz, an attorney, said any crime victim may be able to seek monetary damages against people who caused them harm. Muñoz, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which heavily influences the shaping of the $200+ billion state budget, was a coauthor of another new state law, enacted as a result of House Bill 10, that gives law enforcement in Texas more power to fight human trafficking, a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise that preys most fiercely on women and children. “Human trafficking is modern day slavery, which also exposes their victims to sexual exploitation,” said Muñoz, who in 2012 was named to the groundbreaking Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking, which also included Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “One of the results of HB 10 is that even if a victim is an undocumented immigrant, the power of Texas shall be brought to bear to protect the powerless who are forced into the illegal sex trade,” said Muñoz. Muñoz, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which heavily influences the shaping of the $200+ billion state budget, was a coauthor of another new state law, enacted as a result of House Bill 10, that gives law enforcement in Texas more power to fight human trafficking, a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise that preys most fiercely on women and children. “Human trafficking is defined as a crime against humanity, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them,” said Muñoz. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad, according to the United Nations. Every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.

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Two new state laws championed by Rep. Muñoz among key measures designed to protect victims of sexual assault, human trafficking and sex slavery

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Children who are victims of sexual assault now have 15 years instead of five years to bring civil lawsuits against alleged sex offenders or others who are liable for the injuries sustained as a result of such crimes, said Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, who supported House Bill 189, which became state law on September 1, 2015.

House Bill 189, which was approved by the Legislature late last spring, also removed any statute of limitations on the criminal prosecution of suspected serial rapists, whether their victim is a child or an adult.

“I have a proven record in the Texas Legislature of supporting the creation of laws, policies, and new funding that protect crime victims and prosecute criminals,” said Muñoz. “I have no pity for rapists, child molesters, or other sexual predators, and I never place the blame of these victims because it is never their fault.”

Prior to the passage of HB 189, there was a 10-year statute of limitations in the criminal prosecution of sex offenders who were considered serial rapists.

A statute of limitations is generally defined as a law that sets a time limit for bringing certain kinds of legal action.

Sexual assault is generally defined as any unwanted, non-consensual sexual contact against any individual by another. Chapter 22, Section 22.011 of the Texas Penal Code provides the legal definition of sexual assault while Chapter 22, Section 22.021 details the offenses which are aggravated sexual assault.

In 2014, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there were 18,756 sexual assaults in the state, an increase of 5.1 percent over 2013.

In the United States, according to the Office of Justice Programs: Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 211,200 rapes and sexual assaults went unreported each year to police between 2006 and 2010.

House Bill 189, effective September 1, 2015, was needed because of the seriousness of these crimes and the special circumstances that can limit when these victims are ready to speak out about the crime, according to the bill analysis by the House Research Organization. Despite these circumstances, a measure of justice always should be available to victims of these crimes, the HRO report stated.

The House Research Organization is the research arm of the Texas House of Representatives, and it prepared detailed analyses of all major legislation that is scheduled for a vote by state lawmakers.

“The significance of HB 189 removing the statute of limitations for serial rape cases is well-documented in the bill analysis,” Muñoz emphasized. “The House Research Organization noted that his vital new protection is tremendously important for fighting sexual assault and violence against women because it encourages survivors to come forward to report their cases, preventing those convicted from attacking again.”

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, the author of HB 189, provided some of her key perspectives soon after she first filed the legislation on November 10, 2014, which was approved by the Legislature on June 1, 2015, and signed into law by the governor on June 18, 2015.

“Rape is a horrible crime that is not only physical but mental,” said Thompson. “According to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, sexual assault is a crime in which the assailant uses sexual contact to inflict humiliation or to exert power and control over the victim. Currently, there are 1.8 million survivors of sexual assault in Texas.”

As for the civil lawsuit aspects of HB 189, Muñoz, an attorney, said any crime victim may be able to seek monetary damages against people who caused them harm.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime:

Regardless of the outcome of the criminal prosecution, or even if there was no prosecution, crime victims can file civil lawsuits against offenders and other responsible parties. Unlike the criminal justice process, the civil justice system does not attempt to determine an offender’s guilt or innocence. Offenders are also not put in prison. Rather, civil courts attempt to ascertain whether an offender or a third party is liable for the injuries sustained as a result of the crime.

If defendants are found civilly liable, courts may order them to pay monetary damages to victims.

While money awarded in civil lawsuits can never fully compensate a victim for the trauma of victimization or the loss of a loved one, it can be a valuable resource to help crime victims rebuild their lives. Moreover, the exposure to civil liability is a powerful incentive for landlords, businessmen, and other proprietors to enact the security measures necessary to prevent future victimizations.

HB 10, COAUTHORED BY MUÑOZ, PROTECTS VICTIMS OF SEX SLAVERY

Muñoz, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which heavily influences the shaping of the $200+ billion state budget, was a coauthor of another new state law, enacted as a result of House Bill 10, that gives law enforcement in Texas more power to fight human trafficking, a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise that preys most fiercely on women and children.

“Human trafficking is modern day slavery, which also exposes their victims to sexual exploitation,” said Muñoz, who in 2012 was named to the groundbreaking Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking, which also included Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
“One of the results of HB 10 is that even if a victim is an undocumented immigrant, the power of Texas shall be brought to bear to protect the powerless who are forced into the illegal sex trade,” said Muñoz.

Key portions of the law coauthored by Muñoz, according to the bill analysis of the measure, include the following protections for women and children:

House Bill 10 amends provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Education Code, Government Code, and Penal Code relating to trafficking of persons and compelling prostitution. The resulting law removed the statute of limitations on compelling prostitution of a child younger than 18 years of age.

HB 10 expands the offense of prostitution conduct for which the penalty is enhanced to a second degree felony to include conduct in which the person solicited is represented to the actor as being, or believed by the actor to be, younger than 18 years of age.

HB 10 makes a prostitution offense punishable as a second degree felony a “reportable conviction or adjudication” for purposes of sex offender registration.

HB 10 authorizes a prosecutor to compel a party to a trafficking of persons offense to provide evidence or testify about the offense in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

HB 10 allows a claimant or victim of child trafficking to be compensated from the Texas crime victims’ compensation fund notwithstanding the claimant’s or victim’s knowing and willing participation in the criminally injurious conduct and allows a claimant or victim of other human trafficking to be compensated if the criminally injurious conduct was the result of force, fraud, or coercion.

HB 10 requires the judicial training provided by the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to include information about human trafficking and requires the Texas Education Agency to develop policies on reporting child trafficking.

House Bill 10 continues the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force established by the attorney general, expands its membership, and revises its duties. The bill requires certain state agencies to designate an individual, and notify the task force of the designated individual, who is authorized to coordinate the agency’s resources to strengthen state and local efforts to prevent human trafficking, protect and assist trafficking victims, and investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders.

HB 10 also creates the Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Unit within the criminal justice division of the governor’s office and sets out its duties.

MUÑOZ: HUMAN TRAFFICKING “A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY”

“Human trafficking is defined as a crime against humanity, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them,” said Muñoz.

Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad, according to the United Nations. Every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.

“Human trafficking is a tragedy that occurs all too often within Texas,” House Speaker Joe Straus said when he appointed Muñoz to the Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking. “This committee is charged to study ways to combat it, including how the Legislature can work collaboratively with law enforcement and human rights groups to obtain justice for victims and to end this inhumanity.”

Human trafficking is second only to drug dealing in criminal profitability and is the fastest growing illegal enterprise, according to the Polaris Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that maintains the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, according to House Concurrent Resolution 68, the legislation that in the spring of 2011 authorized the creation of the Joint Interim Committee on Human Trafficking.

Also according to HCR 68:

• Texas is a major point of illegal entry into the United States:

• The state’s large geographic size along with its demographics make the Lone Star State appealing to traffickers, who endeavor to blend into the population while exploiting their victims in forced labor and prostitution;

• Although Texas has been recognized as a leader in the effort to end the scourge of human trafficking, eradication of this modern-day form of slavery is a difficult challenge, and every means of combating it should be explored; and

• It is estimated that 18,000 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year and that the number of U.S. citizens trafficked within our own borders is even higher, with more than 200,000 American children at high risk for trafficking into the sex industry.

SEXUAL ASSAULT: CRIME OF VIOLENCE, NOT PASSION

Sexual assault is a crime of violence, not a crime of passion, according to Texas Women’s University, one of the nation’s largest universities primarily for women, which has campuses in Houston, Dallas and Denton.

The TWU Counseling Center provides the following background and insights on sexual assault:

All crimes have two components: motive and opportunity. Sexual assault crimes usually involve motives of dominance or control, rather than sexual gratification. Motive is in the mind of the offender. Since we cannot know the mind of others, we must concentrate on removing opportunities for crime and changing the social climate that contributes to victimization. Opportunity for sexual assault varies depending upon the crime.

Most victims of sexual assaults know their perpetrators. However, the most dangerous offenders seem to randomly choose their victims. Perpetrators of sexual assault have no regard for others and seek to fulfill their desires and feed their egos. Victims are chosen because of their vulnerability. Usually, age, race, and physical appearance do not matter to the perpetrator.

There is no “typical” perpetrator. They come from all economic, social, and ethnic backgrounds. Friends, acquaintances or dates may have the potential to harm you. Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows – a date, a co-worker, a supervisor, an ex-partner, a family member, a neighbor.

Many perpetrators are married or have sexual partners. At the same time, a significant number of perpetrators don’t know the victim they assault. They may observe a potential victim and plan the assault, or choose victims randomly. Many sexual assaults are committed by teenagers and young men, but people of all ages commit sexual assaults.

CIVIL PROTECTIONS FOR VICTIMS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

The National Center for Victims of Crime is a nonprofit organization that advocates for victims’ rights, trains professionals who work with victims, and serves as a trusted source of information on victims’ issues, according to its website. After more than 25 years, this organization states that is remains the most comprehensive national resource committed to advancing victims’ rights and helping victims of crime rebuild their lives.

On its website, it provides the following explanation of how victim of child sexual abuse may purse justice through both the criminal and civil justice systems:

There are two significant differences between the two court systems: the burden of proof necessary, and the role of the victim in each process.

In a criminal case, conviction requires “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil case liability must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.

In a criminal case the state controls the proceedings and the victim acts as a witness for the prosecution. In a civil case, the victim controls essential decisions shaping the case, including whether to sue, accept a settlement offer or go to trial.

In the criminal justice system, the process begins after a crime has been committed and reported to law enforcement. If an arrest has been made and charges filed, the offender may be prosecuted and the crime is considered “a crime against the state.” The prosecutor represents the interests of the state, and the process is meant to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused offenders.
The civil justice system does not attempt to determine the innocence or guilt of an offender. Rather, it attempts to determine whether an offender or a third party is liable for the injuries sustained as a result of the crime.

A civil court finding of liability usually means that the defendant must pay the victim or his/her family monetary damages. The civil justice system can provide victims with the monetary resources necessary to rebuild their lives, and can hold defendants who are found liable directly accountable to the victim.

Most crime victims have the right to file a civil lawsuit seeking financial compensation from the perpetrator or from others whose unreasonable conduct gave rise to conditions that allowed the crime to occur.

In civil cases, the plaintiff must prove there is a 51 percent or greater chance that the defendant committed all the elements of the wrong. It is possible to find the defendant liable in a civil case even though a verdict of “not guilty” was rendered in the criminal case.

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Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, has served in the Texas Legislature since 2011 and represents all or parts of the cities of Hidalgo, Granjeño, McAllen, Mission, Palmview and Pharr. His Capitol office is located at E1.508 in the Capitol extension, and may be reached at (512) 463-0704. His District Office is located at 121 E. Tom Landry, Mission, and may be reached at (956) 584-8999.

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