With a few simple strokes of his pen, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed into law Thursday something that was decades in the making: removing the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse to sue — no matter how much time has passed.
Senate Bill 21-073 was sent to the governor on April 8 and the law will take effect Jan. 1, 2022. It doesn’t apply retroactively, so victims whose statute of limitations have already expired will not be able to sue their abusers in civil court.
The law will apply for any civil case where:
- the statute of limitations hasn’t yet expired;
- the abuse happened in Colorado; and
- the abuse could be considered a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor if it was a criminal case.
The governor noted he was signing the bill during Child Abuse Prevention Month, saying “there’s no place for red tape between survivors and healing in Colorado.” He was joined by bill sponsors, advocates and survivors of sexual abuse.
“While we know this bill will not of course repair all the harm that many survivors have endured in their lives, we know that it will provide hope and solace moving forward,” he said.
Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, one of the bill’s sponsors, said when lawmakers killed the bill last year as the pandemic took hold, it was devastating.
The Commerce City Democrat is a sexual assault survivor. She was first abused when she was 7 years old, and it took her more than 30 years to tell others.
“For survivors, it is an affirmation that we are putting into law that we believe you and that we will hear you out and that we won’t shut you down before you have had an appropriate opportunity to heal before you are ready to come forward,” she said of the bill finally passing.
She added that many of the advocates who have been pushing for this bill for decades won’t be able to benefit from it, but it will protect others moving forward. Colorado will join at least a dozen other states who have enacted similar legislation.
“It’s really a mix of emotions,” Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault Policy Director Raana Simmons said of the bill signing. “This is a policy concept that I inherited, and I’m the third policy director at CCASA on this bill.”
The “lookback window” that would have revived expired cases did not make it into this year’s bill because of constitutionality concerns.
However, a companion bill, SB21-088, was introduced that would allow people to sue institutions or youth groups for past sexual abuse suffered by people connected to the institutions. The measure is still making its way through the legislature, waiting on its second Senate committee hearing.
Both bills have bipartisan sponsorship, though some institutions like the Colorado Catholic Conference took issue with them. The Colorado Catholic Church has had allegations of child sex abuse of 212 victims by priests. In a statement in March, the group said it supports “a reasonable and fair extension of the civil statute of limitations” but that there should be a limit. The statement said the group is also concerned with constitutional and due process issues with SB21-088.
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