A view of the Colorado Capitol in Denver on June 6, 2023. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
Anyone experiencing sexual assault and seeking resources can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Anyone in a crisis can also text HOME to 741741 to reach a volunteer crisis counselor.
Colorado legislators are pursuing a new way to give survivors of child sex abuse the opportunity to take legal action beyond current statute of limitations requirements.
The Colorado Legislature approved a bill in 2021 that would have given victims of child sex abuse a three-year window to file a lawsuit relating to abuse that occurred as early as the 1960s. But the Colorado Supreme Court determined the law was unconstitutional because of the state Constitution’s ban on legislation applying to matters that occurred before it was enacted.
So, state Sen. Jessie Danielson wants to achieve the bill’s goals through a constitutional amendment that could be referred to the ballot for Coloradans to vote on in 2024.
Danielson, a Wheat Ridge Democrat, said the Legislature has an obligation to pursue every opportunity to do right by the child sex abuse survivors. She was a sponsor of the blocked legislation, Senate Bill 21-88, which the Legislature approved with bipartisan support.
“We have to remember what we’re talking about — our kids who were placed in the trust of an adult, and while in the care of these trusted adults, were sexually abused,” Danielson said. “And in these cases, the institutions knew about it and shielded them.”
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
While the idea for a ballot measure is in the early stages, Danielson said she’s working with leaders in both chambers of the Legislature to draft a bill. The bill would refer a question to Colorado voters asking them to slightly modify the Colorado Constitution to allow survivors of child sex abuse to bypass the statute of limitations. The details of exactly how it would do this are yet to be determined.
SB-88 would have allowed people who survived sexual abuse as children to sue their abusers, as well as culpable public and private institutions.
Danielson said a constitutional amendment came up as the next best option after the Supreme Court decision left survivors and advocates “devastated.” Many survivors re-lived their abuses and trauma when testifying in favor of SB-88 at the Capitol, Danielson said, and the victory they felt after the bill’s passage was taken away.
The Colorado Sun first reported the news of lawmakers pursuing a constitutional amendment.
Danielson is working on the idea with Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, House Majority Leader Monica Duran, a Wheat Ridge Democrat, and Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat.
While some survivors might want the change to be made so they can pursue their own individual claim, Danielson said others might want to take legal action to get the person who assaulted them removed from their position of power.
“Let’s allow for these older claims to have the same kind of positive impact and protect kids from these kinds of predators,” Danielson said. “I’m confident that my colleagues in the House and the Senate will renew their commitment, because it was a really broad bipartisan support for Senate Bill 88. And some of the few votes against it were based on that constitutional argument, so that should no longer be relevant.”
Elizabeth Newman, public policy director at the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, agreed that bringing accountability to the institutions that enable abusers is a priority for many survivors, which is why the coalition supported SB-88.
The coalition provides resources and support to direct service organizations that work directly with survivors. Newman said the coalition was saddened by the Supreme Court decision, because survivors need the flexibility to be able to come forward whenever they feel ready to.
Newman said while the coalition doesn’t have a position on the proposed amendment yet, the organization looks forward to working with the Legislature again as it did with SB-88 to determine the next best solution. The coalition was one of SB-88’s main proponents.
“For CCASA, it’s a priority to expand options for survivors to access the healing and justice that they feel would best meet their needs, and what serves their best interests,” Newman said. “That was why we pursued Senate Bill 88, because it’s really important that survivors have the ability to access the systems that they choose when they’re ready to do so.”
Danielson is also confident that Colorado voters would support the measure. But it will take more effort to pass, and could be much more difficult for survivors to share their stories with the entire state, Newman added. She said advocating a constitutional amendment would bring a much higher level of attention to the survivors’ stories.
“It’s a hard thing to relive that trauma,” Newman said. “They tell their stories over and over again and relive that harm that happened to them.”
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.