After decades of debate, Colorado will give sex assault victims unlimited time to sue their abusers
Colorado will give recent and future sexual assault survivors, including those molested as children, unlimited time to sue their abusers. But a separate effort to give victims of historic abuse an opportunity to take legal action remains pending and uncertain.
State lawmakers on Tuesday sent Senate Bill 73, which would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault cases, to Gov. Jared Polis, who says he will sign the measure into law.
Legislation eliminating the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault cases has repeatedly failed in the Colorado General Assembly, including at least three times in the 15 years preceding the 2021 lawmaking term. But following a 2019 report on widespread child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Colorado, the effort gained new steam.
“I’m truly speechless,” said state Rep. Matt Soper, a Delta Republican who championed the measure. “This is 30 years in the making.”
Under current law, child sex assault victims in Colorado have six years from the day they turn 18 to sue their abusers. Senate Bill 73 gives people for whom that six-year statute of limitations hasn’t run out and anyone abused after Jan. 1, 2022, unlimited time to file a lawsuit against their abuser or abusers.
The legislation does not affect victims of historic sexual abuse, such as those abused by Colorado priests decades ago. For criminal cases, there is no statute of limitations for child sex assault in Colorado.
“For me, it’s personal,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat who also championed the legislation. “As a sexual assault survivor, this bill doesn’t help me, but I understand the importance because of how long it took me to talk about what happened when I was seven.”
Michaelson Jenet said she doesn’t know who her abuser was so she couldn’t bring a case against them.
For many abuse survivors, it can take decades before they feel comfortable sharing their stories.
“By the time most (victims) are just able to tell their loved ones, not even law enforcement, the statute of limitations has expired,” Soper said. “To know that this bill will give them their entire life to come forward is pretty incredible.”
The Colorado Sun last year profiled a man who waited more than three decades to tell his family that he had been abused as a child by a priest who was a constant figure in their lives.
“When I look back, the reason I didn’t say anything is because I didn’t want to hurt my family,” the man, Neil Elms, said.