After the Colorado Attorney General’s Office revealed Tuesday that there were 46 additional documented cases of child sexual abuse in the state’s Catholic dioceses since the first landmark report last year, some lawmakers indicated they were still committed to giving victims access to the justice system.
“It’s very heartbreaking every time I hear news about this,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City. Last year, she and Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, sponsored a bill to give unlimited time for future victims of child sexual abuse and other types of sexual misconduct to sue their abusers and the institutions that harbor them.
Generally, state law only gives victims six years after they turn 18 to file a civil claim against their abusers, and two years against institutions, such as churches. A bill in the 2020 legislative session to remove the statute of limitations going forward passed the House of Representatives with only a single no vote. However, when the Legislature reconvened briefly after a COVID-19-induced hiatus, one of the Senate sponsors, Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, asked a Senate committee to kill the measure, House Bill 1296.
“Statutes of limitations are the tool most often used to deny civil claims of childhood and adult sexual assault,” said Raana Simmons, director of public affairs for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, following the clergy abuse update.
“CCASA remains committed to supporting survivors of sexual abuse through statute of limitations reform and we anticipate broad support for statutory changes, especially in light of the attorney general’s continued discoveries of child sexual abuse in the Denver and Pueblo dioceses.”
Michaelson Jenet indicated that she and the same coalition of survivor advocacy groups was working on a similar bill to introduce in the 2021 session. She added that Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, would join the effort and introduce the bill in the upper chamber. Gonzales in June indicated she killed her bill to reintroduce it next year with a “lookback window,” a period allowing victims whose statute of limitations has expired to file suit.
“I also know that I’m now responsible for making them wait another six months. And I apologize for that and I accept responsibility for that,” she said at the time. Gonzales could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Michaelson Jenet and Soper had opted against a lookback window for HB1296, believing the state constitution shielded alleged perpetrators from retroactive litigation.
“Obviously if the constitution is wrong we’ll change that. It’s a very long process. It’s always a possibility,” Soper said.