On March 30, 2021, Colorado lawmakers passed Senate Bill 73 (SB 73). SB 73 eliminates the legal deadline to file civil lawsuits of sexual assault. However, this new deadline only applies to recent and future victims.
On April 15, 2021, Governor Jared Polis signed the bill into law.
Lawmakers are also considering legislation to help survivors with older claims seek justice.
SB 73 Eliminates Civil Statute Of Sexual Assault
By passing SB 73, Colorado lawmakers significantly expanded the rights of child sexual abuse survivors.
SB 73 eliminates the state’s civil statute of limitations for sexual assault. It specifically applies to felony and Class 1 misdemeanor charges, including the sexual abuse of a minor.
A statute of limitations (SOL) is a legal deadline. SOLs vary based on the jurisdiction, the crime and the intended legal action (criminal charges versus a civil claim).
The former statute of limitations in Colorado only gave victims six years to file a claim following their 18th birthday. This new statute gives recent and future survivors unlimited time to file civil lawsuits against their abusers and responsible organizations.
The new law will take effect on January 1, 2022.
The bill is the first of its kind to pass through the state legislature in decades. Many attribute its success to the recent report of Colorado clergy abuse. The report identified more than 50 abusive priests in the Colorado dioceses. Many believe the facts of this report drove legislative change for sexual abuse victims in the state.
Although the new law will be incredibly impactful for recent and future victims, it doesn’t address survivors with expired claims of abuse.
SB 73 Does Not Address Historical Abuse
SB 73 offers victims unlimited time to file civil abuse claims. However, the statute is not retroactive. To be able to file a claim under the new statute, survivors must meet the following qualifications:
- The survivor was abused on or after January 1, 2022.
- The survivor was abused before January 1, 2022, but as of said date, the case was still eligible under the former six-year statute.
This new statute does not offer a legal solution to survivors who were abused decades ago, such as victims of historical clergy abuse. For these time-barred survivors, lawmakers are considering a separate bill, Senate Bill 88 (SB 88).
Lawmakers Consider SB 88
SB 88 is a retroactive bill that would allow survivors of childhood sexual misconduct to sue their abuser or a responsible organization. If, for example, an organization knew about the misconduct and did nothing to address it, a survivor could seek civil legal action under the guidelines of this bill.
Evidence shows that it can take years for survivors of abuse to come forward with their experience. This bill seeks to restore justice for survivors who have missed their window of opportunity in the legal system.
“By the time most (victims) are just able to tell their loved ones, not even law enforcement, the statute of limitations has expired. To know that this bill will give them their entire life to come forward is pretty incredible.”
Legislators, Boy Scouts of America and Catholic Church Oppose SB 88
Despite its benefits for adult survivors, the bill is receiving pushback. Some lawmakers are concerned that a bill of this kind would be unconstitutional.
Other critics of the bill include the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church. If this passed, the Colorado dioceses may face hefty settlements and even bankruptcy to pay out survivors. The Boy Scouts already face several lawsuits in the state. If passed, they would likely face more abuse claims.
In spite of this pushback, many members of the Colorado Senate support SB 88. In the meantime, the passing of SB 73 is a historic legislative change for survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the state of Colorado.
“For me, it’s personal. 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.”
Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act, Senate Bill 88, 73rd General Assembly (Colorado 2021).
Civil Action Statute Of Limitations Sexual Assault, Senate Bill 73, 73rd General Assembly (Colorado 2021).
Hindi, S. (2021, March 5). Catholic group opposes Colorado bill that would give child sex abuse survivors the ability to sue their abuser at any time. The Denver Post.
Karlik, M. (2021, April 15). Polis signs bill removing legal time limit for childhood sex abuse victims. Colorado Politics.
Paul, J. (2021, March 30). After decades of debate, Colorado will give sex assault victims unlimited time to sue their abusers. The Colorado Sun.