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Opinion: Why lawmakers should reform law to help victims of childhood sexual abuse

I read with great disappointment the failure of Colorado state lawmakers to once again take action which would have granted access to our legal system for child victims of sexual abuse.

It was right for victims and advocates to pull support from House Bill 1296, eliminating the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse only going forward. The bill as proposed, failed to address the needs of past child sexual abuse victims.

Some legislators expressed concerns any retroactive provision would violate the Colorado constitution. The lawmakers could have advanced two separate bills simultaneously if they feared a “look back” provision of the bill would later be ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

Mark Crawford

Many other states have in fact passed such “look back” provisions that have survived constitutional challenges. I do understand laws differ from state to state, but where there is a will, there is a way!

Mental health professionals have told us one in four girls and one in six boys will be the victim of unwanted sexual contact by the age of 18. The average age a child of sexual abuse reports such crimes is 52 years of age. Astonishing facts, some may ask, why did these child victims wait so long?

Shame, guilt and self-blame most often compel a victim into silence. Sexual predators count on that and work hard to instill such feelings in their victims; they are skilled predators. Prevalence of the sexual abuse of minors is far greater than we as a society are willing to admit. Those facts alone demand action by state lawmakers.

When I was a young teenager, my parish priest took me on a summer trip to Colorado for several weeks. We took an overnight train from Chicago to Denver’s Union Station in the summer of 1978 when the sexual abuse first began.

MORE: Effort to give Colorado child sex assault survivors unlimited time to sue abusers is rejected

At first, I thought the world of this man who took a big brother role in my life. He was attentive to my studies and wanted to make sure I was a responsible, well-educated young man. It was part of a long grooming process.

I was very excited at first as he planned to take me on a rail trip from Silverton to Durango on a famous old steam line, travel on a cog rail to the summit of Pikes Peak and visits to the U.S. Air Force Academy, Garden of the Gods, ski resorts and other places of interest in Colorado.

Unfortunately for me, he had other plans as well as he arranged for us to stay at a remote mountain top cabin just outside of Cripple Creek, where he molested me almost daily, sometimes several times a day. Confused, scared, far from home I had nowhere to turn. 

I have no doubt my abuse as well as many other children who were sexually abused in your state while on vacations or trips are not counted among those included in your Attorney General’s report.

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I finally garnered the courage to report him to my local bishop and other clergy years ago, when he could have been prosecuted, but they never reported him to local authorities, so he is a free man and remains a priest with restrictions to this day.

No, I am not a Colorado citizen, nor can I vote for a Colorado lawmaker. No, I cannot benefit in any way from a change in your law, but certainly many other Colorado children can be spared such a history if lawmakers take the necessary action to protect your children. 

What I hope your lawmakers will come to understand is the fact that every day they fail to act to put in place meaningful laws, they send the wrong message. Essentially if an institution can conceal knowledge of a known predator from authorities long enough, you can legally get away without consequence.

Why would any legislator allow predators or institutions to skirt the law for prior crimes? Doing so puts children at risk as predators remain unknown and more children have been victims by those for which legal accountability was no longer an option.

Some institutions have claimed, it’s not fair to change laws as memories fade, witnesses die and evidence is lost. In cases involving institutions, there is almost always evidence: prior allegations, investigations, written letters, e-mails, text messages even admissions, yet these cases, too, are time barred.

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In fact, I have handwritten letters from my abuser acknowledging his twisted behavior and even in cases with absolute proof, the expiration of a statute of limitations prevents justice for the sexually abused. That inevitably, in many cases, leads to more victims.

So, I implore Colorado lawmakers to act now, protect you children, not powerful institutions or those that would do children harm. Expose wrongdoers, support and pass just legislation that allows all victims access to justice and send a clear message, that such acts of child sexual abuse or the concealment of such crimes will no longer be tolerated in the state of Colorado. Only then will you render such predators powerless.


Mark Crawford is the New Jersey State Director of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, www.SNAPnetwork.org, a survivor of clergy abuse and a national advocate for victims of abuse.


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