Why the Statute of Limitation Needs to be Extended in Texas

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How to find a sense of agency as an adult when you've been disempowered as a child

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A $5 bill printed on my 4th grade yearbook photoCharlotte

I was in 4th grade and a new immigrant to a small town in Texas when I excitedly opened the yearbook to discover. . . $5 printed on my face. I remember the shock and how hot and breathless humiliation felt. Is this what it feels like to be punched in the gut?

While it might have been a joke or mistake to someone else, it felt like a long list of humiliations, discriminations, and attacks during the year. From kids making fun of my name to slanting their eyes and writing my name in the bathroom stall — this was the final disgrace — to go down, well, forever. 

When a lot of negative events happen, it’s hard not to think that the universe is out to get you.

At the time, I couldn’t afford to buy the yearbook, so I had to look on with a friend. That friend laughed at me. Some friend huh?

I held it to myself. I didn’t trust my homeroom teacher and my abusive parents wouldn’t have done anything. In fact, they would have said how awful I was and blamed it on me. If I was a good kid, this wouldn’t happen. This is how my parents saw me, and how I ended up seeing myself. 

I didn’t know that there was anything that I could do about the yearbook. 

This event became one of the many that would feel disempowering and something that I couldn’t and didn’t know how to stand up against.

Fast forward to a few days before Christmas in 2021 — I’m doing research for a project and obtained a copy of the yearbook. Opening its pages feels just as humiliating as the day that it did back in 1997. But I feel more empowered because the yearbook is in my hands. I have proof. 

A flood of tears streamed down my face as my cheeks burned. I felt a tightness in my chest. 

This time, a former classmate (the one who sent me the yearbook) wrote on a sticky note, “WTF is there a $5 bill on your face?” It didn’t feel very comforting.

I cried and tried to release the shame from my body. 

I’ve been going to therapy in the last few years, and I have a few more resources in my toolbox for self-love and self-compassion. I tried to be the parent that I didn’t have. First, I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t my fault. Then I told myself that if I had been my own parent back then, I would have marched us straight to the school principal and asked her how this could have happened. “Didn’t they look at the yearbook before they printed it? How could they be so negligent?” And if she tried to dismiss me, make an excuse, or pass on the blame to someone else, I, as the parent that I didn’t have — would sue them. 

As a kid, an adult speaking on my behalf would have given me a sense of agency and at the very least, a sense that someone cared about my feelings and wanted to protect me. I would have learned how to stand up for myself instead of allowing people to disrespect and to take advantage of me. I would have learned that victims can stand up for themselves and that consequences exist for perpetrators. 

Since I am an adult now, I want to stand up for myself. I’ve been spending the last few days searching for lawyers in Texas to file a civil lawsuit against my elementary school and the school district for emotional damage.

The statute of limitation in Texas is 5 years. It’s been over twenty years since the event happened. A non-civil lawyer discouraged me from litigation. I felt that he was as disempowering as the adults around me when I was a child. “Move on, heal in other ways,” he said. 

The law in Texas is not made for abuse victims like me. It’s made for fast resolution. But that’s not possible for mental and emotional trauma. Kids who didn’t have adults that they could depend on don’t have the tools to stand up for themselves until they’ve been in therapy and recovery for many years. Even then, taking this step is a huge leap of courage for me. 

The law cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs to be made with expertise from the therapy community and to take account of real victims so that it can actually help and protect us. 

The disempowered voice tells me to give up. The more compassionate voice tells me to try again — talk to a civil lawyer this time. Sometimes it feels like there’s a battle within me — between the side that wants to give up and the side that says “give it another try.” 

From therapy, I’m learning that I can’t control the outcome. The only thing that I can control is my willingness to get up and try again. I’ve reached out to the ACLU of Texas, but they’re so inundated with work, I’m not sure if they have the capacity to look through my case. 

I need a lawyer who wants to change the 5-year statute of limitation. A lawyer who can recognize that it takes more than five years for a child who has been systemically disempowered to recognize that she doesn’t have to be disempowered. 

As an adult coming to terms with the past, I’m glad that I can see solutions that I couldn’t see before. As a child, I didn’t know that I could speak to my teacher or speak to a principal. I was used to adults hurting me and humiliating me. 

I’m beginning to recognize that even if my efforts do not result in the outcome that I seek, it’s the effort and my ability and willingness to try that matters. I no longer believe that I will always be disempowered. I don’t believe that I will always be empowered either. But I can always try, and it’s my agency that matters. 

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Hello! I'm a narrative filmmaker in NYC. These are my private diaries. I write about mental health, childhood trauma & dysfunctional family systems. Come along on my journey as I grow as a person, heal, and pursue my dreams of being a storyteller. I'd appreciate your support! https://www.patreon.com/filmmakerdiaries

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