After infighting, Colorado lawmakers revive effort to provide youngster intercourse assault survivors limitless time to sue abusers
Colorado lawmakers are debating again whether recent and future child sexual assault victims should be given unlimited time to sue their perpetrators after a similar effort failed last year after policy change advocates argued .
Senate Bill 73 cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday and passed the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services unanimously.
Victims of child sexual assault have only six years after they turn 18 to sue their perpetrators. Bipartisan legislation would remove this limitation. The measure would apply to people who were abused after January 1, 2022, as well as to people who are still in the statute of limitations window up to that date.
An accompanying measure, Senate Bill 88, is intended to give former victims of child sexual abuse the opportunity to sue their perpetrators and institutions that have not intervened.
State Senator Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge. (Handout)
“Colorado has lagged far behind in reforming the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors,” said Senator Jessie Danielson, a Wheat Ridge Democrat and lead sponsor of the measures. “These bills are the result of decades of struggle to bring healing and justice to the survivor community. It’s time we did it. ”
Jill Brogden testified Wednesday that she was 12 years old when she was molested by a Colorado teacher who was aware of the civil statute of limitations. He threatened her to “keep her mouth closed until at least 10 years after I was 18 years old”.
“I did what I was told for fear of retaliation,” she said.
The two bills are set against the backdrop of a political drama that unfolded at the Statehouse last year after supporters of the policy change disagreed on whether and how victims of child sexual abuse should be given an opportunity to file lawsuits against their abusers years after the abuse to submit.
The raid was via a “window of vision” that would have given these victims time to take legal action for abuse they suffered years ago. Other states like Pennsylvania created such an opportunity to allow survivors of historical abuse by Catholic priests to file lawsuits.
MORE: A Denver priest – his father’s best friend – raped him. The state’s Catholic Church abuse report revealed the secret.
However, Colorado legislature attorneys warned lawmakers that such a window in the Centennial State would likely be against the state constitution and that the measure could be overturned in court. The Colorado Constitution states that once a statute of limitations is in place, no case can be filed, even if the law changes.
Some wanted to try the window anyway, which led to the end of the measure.
“I’m not ready to pass a law that will let the perpetrators off the hook,” said Senator Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, during a committee hearing last year when she called for her own law to be rejected. “I will not settle for watered down justice. I think we have to do better. All victims of sexual assault deserve to be held accountable for their perpetrators. “
(In Colorado, Colorado does not have a statute of limitations on child sexual assault, even though state law defines children as 14 years of age or younger.)
The death of the 2021 legislation shocked and angered many victims and victim advocacy groups. This year, proponents of the rearview window are not involved.
“We don’t work together, no,” said Rep. Matt Soper, a Delta Republican working on two Senate bills 73 and 88.
Governor Jared Polis will hold his state address in front of the House of Representatives in the Colorado Capitol Building on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz / The Denver Post)
However, this does not mean that the legislature has still not tried in recent years to give victims of abuse the opportunity to take legal action against their abusers.
“There has always been an appetite to delve into the decades-long, well-documented history of sexual abuse and cover-ups of children in Colorado,” said Raana Simmons, public affairs director for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “The problem, I think, was just how we do it.”
This is where Senate Bill 88 comes in. It is viewed as a compromise that helps survivors of historical abuse and gives institutions a chance to correct their wrongs in a way that the sponsors believe is not against the constitution. It will also not jeopardize efforts to remove the statute of limitations in the future, as it is an entirely separate piece of legislation.
The measure would create a new civil right that would enable victims to sue their perpetrators and organizations “who knew or should have known that a (personal) or youth program carries the risk of sexual misconduct against minors”.
However, organizations are immune to harm if they:
- Took appropriate measures to address the risk of sexual misconduct against minors
- Conduct an assessment to determine whether this action has been effective
- Adequately warned families of the risk of sexual misconduct against minors
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“If the facility has taken steps to find out that they may have harbored sexual predators in the past, such as setting up a trust fund to help compensate victims or producing evidence for law enforcement, then they have Immunity from this new civil right, ”said Soper.
The Catholic Church in Colorado would likely be immune, Soper said, given the steps it has taken to prevent further abuse by priests and its agreement with the Colorado Attorney General to conduct a lengthy investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse in the country last seven decades.
“You would have immunity, I would guess,” said Soper.
MORE: Colorado’s Catholic Church review of sexual abuse called priests, but not those who covered up their crimes
Soper, Danielson, and other lawmakers working on the legislation, including Commerce City Democratic Rep Dafna Michaelson Jenet, believe Senate Draft 88 will pass constitutional muster because they are creating a new law rather than amending an old one.
“There’s no equivalent in Colorado law,” Soper said. “It’s completely new.”
Simmons, with the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, believes the legislation is tightly tailored for constitutional compliance. “What we landed was not implemented in any legislature in the country,” she said. “It’s a whole new idea.”
Senate Bill 73 is now going to the entire Senate for debate. Senate Bill 88 is not yet scheduled for its first committee hearing.
Proponents of the victims feel that after the bumpy road last year, they have a good chance of success this year, though getting Senate Bill 88 across the finish line might be harder.
“I’m an old racehorse trainer. I’ve never stepped on a horse that I didn’t think could win the race, ”said Sen. Don Coram, a Montrose Republican who works on the bills. “I’ve never introduced a bill that I didn’t think I could get over the line. I feel good about it. “