Decades often pass before some sexual abuse victims work up the courage to report that they were violated, former Denver County Magistrate Judge Paul Quinn said Tuesday.
Some never acknowledge the abuse, and many are so distraught that they’re driven to suicide, Quinn told a state House Judiciary committee.
“I could never tell the truth about my sexual abuse” as a teenager assaulted by a Catholic priest, he said. “It took me 51 years before I could reveal it.”
So the statute of limitations to prosecute mandatory reporters who fail to contact authorities about abuse should be 50 years, Quinn said.
Alas, decades aren’t on the table, but Senate Bill 49, proposed by Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, would nearly double the 18-month statute of limitations to three years.
It’s a disappointingly short extension, Quinn said, but he supported it anyway just before the committee unanimously approved it. It now goes for a vote on the House floor, backed by Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City.
Mandatory reporters, such as teachers, doctors and social workers, are legally obligated to contact police, the Colorado Department of Human Services or the state child abuse hotline when they encounter allegations of abuse. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor.
A previous push to set a 10-year statute of limitations failed, Michaelson Jenet said. And this year’s initial proposal called for five years before it was whittled to three.
About 25 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, and 80 percent of their cases will go unreported, she said.
Mandatory reporters are important because abusers rarely commit a single crime, said Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs. The same child can be abused repeatedly, or multiple children can be victimized. So the mandatory reporters are key to preventing more abuse.
“We need to hold mandatory reporters accountable for that failure and the harm that they do,” Carver said. “And extending the statute of limitations helps us hold them accountable to a greater extent.”
“If you don’t report a sexual abuser, that abuser has an opportunity to keep abusing,” Michaelson Jenet said. “Once the child does disclose, that is day one. And they have three years in which to come back and say, ‘Hey, something happened to me, and I told somebody, and they never reported it.’ ”
“This bill gives us an opportunity to hold people accountable for not doing something that they should be doing in the first place,” said Blake Harrison, a prosecutor in the Denver District Attorney’s Office.
But Tristan Gorman, of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, said 18 months is enough time for the misdemeanor crime of failure to report, and three years would be too long.
The longer these cases drag out, the more memories and documents are lost and witnesses become unable or unwilling to testify, Gorman said.
With the committee’s approval, Michaelson Jenet said the measure can be brought to the House floor for a vote this week.