Woman says Texas laws forced her to drop sex abuse claims against stepdad and mom

SPRING, Texas (KTRK) -- A Spring woman who said she was the victim of sexual assault for years is hoping to have laws changed this legislative session in order to get justice.

Rhonda Sears said the abuse from her stepfather started in 1989 when she was 14 years old and lasted for seven years.

"I was murdered on the inside, because mentally, it is exactly what it does to you," Sears said. "You feel nasty. You feel trashy, embarrassed."

Sears alleged that her mother knew about the abuse but did nothing to stop it. Instead, she said she was sent to homes for troubled children and was threatened to be sent to the state mental hospital.

"It was very hard for me to break away from the abuse," Sears said. "I was labeled as a problem child. Everyone was against me. I didn't break away from it until my husband proposed to me."

For years, Sears said she felt powerless and could not come forward. It was not until earlier this year that she was in a place to fight for justice. She said no amount of jail time or money could make up for what happened to her, but she wants answers as to why she was abused for so many years.

She filed a police report in February 2021, but learned the statute of limitation on criminal charges had run out. While there is currently no statute of limitation for child sex crimes in Texas, it existed when Sears' alleged abuse occurred. At the time, the law read that victims had 10 years from their 18th birthday to file criminal charges.

Sears turned to civil court. In 2019, the law changed to increase the statute of limitation on child sex crimes from 15 to 30 years. After filing a lawsuit, she learned that would not apply in her case because of when it happened.

"The statute of limitation does not go backward," said Sears attorney, Joe Schreiber. "It's only for sex assaults from Jan. 1, 2019 -- 30 years to the present. Rhonda's cause of action ended with the previous statute of limitation."

As a result, Sears dropped her case against both her mother and her stepfather.

"I have the proof to win my case, so it shouldn't matter when I was raped," Sears said. "What should really matter is, 'Did it happen to me and can I prove it?' And if I can, then I should get my day in court."

State Rep. Ann Johnson, who represents District 134, filed House Bill 2071 to eliminate the statute of limitation for child sex crimes in civil court. Sears said her only hope to get justice is for the bill to pass.

"I think the civil court should be just like the criminal court," Rep. Johnson said. "At the time the victim recognizes the abuse, the courthouse doors are open for victims to be heard."

The bill is currently in committee, awaiting a hearing, which will need to take place by May 12 for it to be considered this legislative session.

Since dropping her civil lawsuit, Sears started a website called JusticeForRhonda. She said she has received many messages from others who said they were sexually abused and are in a similar position.

Now, not only is she fighting for herself, but she said she is fighting for other victims.

"The law needs to change," Sears said. "These victims need time to heal, build a life. They need time to comprehend what happened. This is a dirty, nasty crime. It involves somebody's body."

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