"I am not alone:" House member’s wife seeks more time for sexual abuse victims to sue offenders

Texas Tribune News

Becky Leach, wife of state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, in the Capitol on April 8, 2019.
Becky Leach, wife of state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, in the Capitol on April 8, 2019.
 Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

As Becky Leach took her seat Monday afternoon, preparing to testify for the first time before a committee at the Texas Capitol, her husband watched as he sat behind his name plate with the word “Chair” engraved underneath.

“I am a victim — and I am not alone,” Becky Leach announced to the room as she began her remarks. “From 12 to 18, I was repeatedly and systematically molested. And I refused to acknowledge it.”

Becky Leach, wife to state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, spoke in support of a bill that would double the amount of time people have to pursue a lawsuit against someone who sexually abused them as a child. The measure, authored by state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, would lengthen the statute of limitations from 15 to 30 years for a person seeking a civil suit over certain types of sexual abuse.

As she delivered her testimony before the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on Monday, Becky Leach said she didn’t acknowledge her own abuse until the age of 35 — almost 17 years after it allegedly occurred — and explained that Goldman’s bill would help give victims more time that is often needed to come forward.

“It’s not a denial. It’s a refusal to admit that this person who you most likely loved … is actually doing this thing to harm you,” Becky Leach said as her husband, a state lawmaker who first entered office in 2013, looked on with tears in his eyes. “I truly believe that it’s my great responsibility to be a voice on behalf of those who don’t know they’ve yet been silenced.”

Becky Leach did not name her abuser during Monday’s testimony, though she told The Texas Tribune the day beforehand that it was someone she knew and trusted. And while she was already past that current 15-year limit to pursue action against them, Becky Leach said she didn’t have the desire to take advantage of the bill, should it pass, anyway.

Becky Leach also cited a sobering statistic during her testimony: That, according to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.

“If I have the opportunity to be a voice for that and stand up for that, then it feels like a waste if I don’t,” Becky Leach told the Tribune.

State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, listens as his wife Becky testifies before the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on April 8, 2019. Leach is chairman of the committee.
State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, listens as his wife Becky testifies before the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on April 8, 2019. Leach is chairman of the committee.
 Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune
Becky Leach, wife of state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, testifies before the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on April 8, 2019. Rep. Leach is chairman of the committee.
Becky Leach, wife of state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, testifies before the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on April 8, 2019. Rep. Leach is chairman of the committee.
 Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Left: State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, listens as his wife Becky testifies before the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee. Right: Becky Leach urges lawmakers to extend the amount of time sexual abuse victims have to pursue lawsuits against their abusers.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

The Allen woman said she started coming to terms with her experience in January 2018 after she started seeing a counselor. Up until that point, she said, she hadn’t told anyone about what happened — including Jeff Leach, who was her high school sweetheart and is now father to their three children.

As committee members listened to Becky Leach’s testimony, many of them seemed to have the same reaction: Why wasn’t such an extended statute of limitations already in place? By comparison, there’s no statute of limitations to pursue criminal charges for certain types of sexual abuse in Texas.

One committee member Monday, state Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, asked the chair whether the committee should approve the legislation about lawsuits and move it closer to the House floor right away instead of leaving it pending in committee, which is what’s typically done. (Jeff Leach said that while he wanted to, Goldman had a few tweaks to the proposal before that could happen.)

Still, committee members praised Becky Leach for testifying — and said it could move others to share with their own stories.

“Well done for coming forward and being a voice for so many,” said state Rep. Julie Johnson, a Carrollton Democrat on the committee. “It’s so powerful when people have the courage to come forward and tell their stories — stories of human suffering and pain are what move us … and shed light on so many problems.”

As she ended her testimony, Becky Leach said that her abuser last year told her they had never acknowledged what happened because they thought she was over it. To that, Becky Leach said, victims never fully get past abuse that happened to them — and shouldn’t have to.

“I never thought I’d say this to a witness in front of our committee before, but, ‘I love you,’” Jeff Leach said to his wife after she finished her testimony. “It’s my hope that with this bill, victims of sexual abuse will know without question that the Texas Legislature is behind them on this.”