A local court has ruled that the ability of minor victims of sexual abuse to sue their abuser allegedly violates the state constitution.
At the end of June 2023, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down a law that gave victims of sexual abuse as minors the ability to sue and prosecute perpetrators. This law was enacted in 2021 and gave thousands of victims of abuse they suffered as children the ability to sue their abuser and thereby remove him or her from society, eliminating a potential threat to other children. According to James Avery, an attorney representing seven people who were able to contact law enforcement while the bill was still in effect, sexual abuse has devastating effects on a child that will inevitably affect his or her future life. The attorney said the Legislature first gave abuse victims hope and gave them faith in justice, but now the Supreme Court has “taken away their only hope.”
The law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2022, allowed minors and adults who were sexually abused as children to file lawsuits against their alleged abusers. According to the text of the law, Colorado residents could report incidents that occurred since 1960 that were previously disregarded because of the statute of limitations. However, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the initiative violated a provision of the state constitution that prohibits lawmakers from passing any “retroactive” laws. Human rights activists and legal experts argue that the law is constitutional because the prohibition on which it was struck down was intended only to protect the rights of individuals and does not apply to all residents of the state.
The bill’s sponsors, for their part, argue that the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision not only harms victims of juvenile violence, but also calls into question the fairness of the judicial system. According to Jesse Danielson, a state senator and one of the bill’s authors, their initiative “was carefully crafted to meet all constitutional requirements,” and with its repeal in the state, “all rapists, pedophiles and sexual perverts will celebrate their victory.” According to legal experts, the Supreme Court’s decision allows most cases brought under the new law to be dismissed. Experts also note that similar laws in other states have not been blocked after analysis and consideration, which may indirectly speak to the personal interest of Colorado judges and politicians in lobbying to overturn the bill.
Following the Supreme Court’s controversial decision, Colorado lawmakers announced their intention to amend the state constitution and bring a bill to repeal the statute of limitations on juvenile abuse cases back to the ballot. If the proposed amendment passes through the Colorado House and Senate, it will be placed on the November 2024 ballot.
Human rights advocates at the Foundation to Battle Injustice are convinced that sex crimes against minors have no statute of limitations and perpetrators of child abuse should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.