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Crime and Courts

Child sex abuse survivors victimized decades ago won’t be able to sue despite Colorado effort to end statute of limitations

House BIll 1296’s sponsors said they didn’t think they could pass a measure if it was retroactive

Christ the King Chapel, on the campus of the Archdiocese of Denver, is the chapel used by seminary students seeking the priesthood. (Photo provided by the Archdiocese of Denver)
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Colorado appears headed toward eliminating the civil statute of limitations for child sexual assault victims, but it will come too late for people molested decades ago. 

House Bill 1296, introduced on Wednesday, would not allow victims to file lawsuits against their abusers if the current statute of limitations is reached before Jan. 1, 2021.The statute of limitations currently says victims have six years after they turn 18 to sue their assailant. 

The legislation’s prime sponsors, Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat, and Matt Soper, a Delta Republican, said that including a retroactivity element in the bill would have cost critical votes.

“When we have tried to pass this in the past, that has been the element that has killed the bill every single time,” Michaelson Jenet said. 

Some victims’ advocates were pushing the lawmakers to take the risk and try to give victims of child sexual abuse decades ago a two-year window to sue their abusers. They were hoping to help survivors of abuse by Catholic priests and Boy Scout leaders, for example. 

Other states have provided victims a window to sue for abuse that occurred decades before. 

EARLIER: Even if Colorado gives child sex assault victims unlimited time to sue, it may be too late for those already abused

“We got very, very specific in the language and the title of this bill because we need to get this passed for moving forward,” Michaelson Jenet said. “We need to protect people whose time hasn’t run out already and anyone who is injured in the future.”

It’s possible the bill could be amended at some point during the lawmaking process to add a retroactivity element in, but it appears highly unlikely.

(For criminal cases, there is no statute of limitations for child sex assault in Colorado, though children are defined under state law as being age 14 or younger.)

Beyond the political difficulties, there were constitutional questions around including a retroactivity element in the legislation. The legislature’s lawyers said any attempt to reopen cases for which the statute of limitations has expired would likely violate the Colorado Constitution. 

Proponents were worried about a protracted court battle if they moved forward with legislation allowing people to sue retroactively. “We need to uphold Colorado’s constitution,” Soper said. 

Lawmakers have tried for years to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sex assault victims in Colorado. 

“It’s time to get it across the finish line so that victims can have a shot at justice,” Soper said.

House Bill 1296 has not yet been scheduled for its first hearing. 

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