Colorado recently amended its laws to expand the rights of childhood sexual assault survivors. By enacting the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act, the state declared childhood sexual abuse a public health problem. The Act empowers those who recognize the harms of their abuse later in adulthood to seek justice. If you or your child endured sexual abuse as a minor, you deserve compensation for your losses. The attorneys at Gerash Steiner Blanton, P.C. will support you as you come forward with your story of survival. Contact us today.
What Is the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act?
In the 2021 legislative session, Colorado lawmakers recognized that a high percentage of victims of child sexual abuse delay disclosure well into adulthood. Thus, they declared that the previous statute of limitations (time allowed to file a lawsuit) of six years prevented survivors from bringing a claim. With the passage of Senate Bill 21-088, the legislature eliminated the statute of limitations for abuse occurring on or after January 1, 2022. It also opened a limited window for survivors to file a civil suit for abuse that occurred on or after January 1, 1960, but before January 1, 2022.
Civil vs. Criminal Charges
When a person commits a crime, the government prosecutor brings criminal charges against the offender. If convicted either through a plea bargain or trial verdict, the outcomes of a criminal case often include fines, probation, or possibly jail time. In Colorado, a prosecutor has five years to prosecute a misdemeanor sex offense against a child. A felony offense has no time limit for prosecution.
In contrast, the result of a civil suit is financial compensation for the victim’s damages. A lawsuit can compensate a sexual abuse survivor for the financial burdens of the assault and the long-term effects on their physical and mental health.
Additionally, filing a civil suit brings the offender’s actions to light, stopping patterns of abuse and empowering other survivors to come forward. By sharing your story, you can make a difference by stopping the abuser from continuing to harm others.
Who Is Legally Responsible for Child Sexual Abuse Under the New Law?
The Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act allows a child sexual abuse victim to sue the actor for sexual misconduct. The Act also enables victims to sue public and private organizations that operate or manage youth-related activities or programs. Some institutions have historically ignored or hidden abuse claims to protect their own interests. But such cover-ups almost inevitably lead to additional victims being harmed by the protected perpetrators.
A victim can sue the “managing organization” of a “youth-related activity or program” for abuse committed by an employee or volunteer if:
- The organization knew or should have known that there was a risk of misconduct, and
- The sexual misconduct occurred while the victim was participating in the organization’s youth-related activity or program.
Public school districts, preschools, educational programs, and the Colorado Division of Youth Services are responsible for protecting children. If the organization sets standards for and controls the employees and volunteers who work with youth, it is accountable for the abuse. The organization also has liability if it claims to have screened the involved adults.
Additionally, the Act defines a “youth-related activity or program” very broadly. It encompasses all activities, services, trips, or events where adults have the trust of the children they supervise. An organization may be responsible for abuse during a youth program, educational program, or religious activity—regardless of the activity’s specific location, duration, objectives, or structure. Also, an educational organization is responsible if misconduct occurs at a school, preschool, or after-school program.
What Is Sexual Misconduct?
The new Colorado law allows a victim to bring a civil action for damages for “sexual misconduct that occurred when the victim was a minor.” If a person commits a criminal sexual act “for the purpose of the sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse of any person,” it qualifies as sexual misconduct. Sex crimes that qualify as sexual misconduct include:
- Sexual assault,
- Unlawful sexual contact,
- Sexual assault on a child (statutory rape),
- Sexual assault on a child by an adult in a position of trust,
- Internet sexual exploitation of a child,
- Child pornography,
- A federal sex offense as defined in the federal “Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act,” and
- All forms of sex trafficking.
If the person does not consent to a sexual act or cannot consent because of their age or lack of understanding, it is sexual assault. Sexual misconduct might look like:
- Exhibitionism or self-exposure,
- Masturbating in front of a child or forcing a child to masturbate,
- Intercourse, and
- Obscene conversations, phone calls, text messages, or virtual interactions.
Child sexual abuse often occurs gradually as the relationship becomes more sexual and invasive. Abusers often use positions of power to influence a child and their families through “grooming.” They also persuade victims to remain silent about sexual abuse through threats of harm to the child or others. The abuser can also threaten to reveal the acts publicly, making the child believe that they would be the target of disapproval. If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you do not have to feel shame or guilt. It is never your fault.
What Type of Compensation Can Victims Recover Under the New Law?
Child sexual abuse can have long-term consequences for the child’s mental and physical health. Victims are more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse and experience a major depressive episode as an adult. Further, victims are likely to experience:
- Trauma and PTSD,
- Increased risk for unintended pregnancy,
- Sexually transmitted infections,
- Low academic performance,
- Failure at school or dropping out,
- Eating disorders,
- Violence and crime
- Suicide, and
- Other harmful behaviors.
The financial costs of child sexual abuse include health care, child welfare, special education, short and long-term physical and mental health treatment, loss of ambition and productivity, and loss of future wages. You deserve to recover for these and all other harms from the abuse you endured.
However, the new law limits the amount of damages awarded in child abuse cases. For non-governmental actors, the Act caps the amount recoverable at $500,000, with one exception. A court may increase the award to a maximum of $1,000,000 if:
- The defendant failed to take action against someone they knew or should have known posed a risk, and
- The court determines that applying the $500,000 limitation would be unfair.
Additionally, the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act limits the amount you can recover from a government agency. These limits are adjusted for inflation every four years. For suits between January 1, 2022, and January 1, 2026, the law caps damages caused by governmental entities at $424,000.
What Are the New Time Limits for Filing a Lawsuit?
There are no time limits for claims arising out of sexual misconduct against a minor that occurred on or after January 1, 2022. A survivor can bring a civil suit against the abuser and the responsible organization at any time.
Additionally, the Act opens a three-year window for victims of abuse that occurred on or after January 1, 1960, and before January 1, 2022. Survivors must bring these claims before January 1, 2025.
Further, Senate Bill 21-073 also applied the open-ended time limit to claims that were not time-barred under the previous law as of January 1, 2022. Remember that the previous limit was six years after the age of majority. Claims qualifying under this bill also have unlimited time to file a claim.
What Effect Does the Law Have When I Make a Sexual Abuse Claim?
In addition to abolishing the statute of limitations, the Act added two important provisions for childhood sexual abuse claims. First, comparative negligence is not allowed in childhood sexual abuse cases. This stops victim-blaming by preventing a defendant from attempting to place any fault on the victim. Further, the law invalidates waivers signed by the victim. Organizations commonly use waivers to disclaim responsibility for accidents. If the incident is sexual assault, a victim cannot waive their right to bring a lawsuit by signing such a document.
What Does Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act Mean for Survivors of Child Abuse in Colorado?
We know that disclosing childhood sexual abuse is a difficult, ongoing process. An estimated 58% to 72% of survivors never disclose their abuse. Survivors may delay reporting for many reasons, including being manipulated or fearing the actor or the criminal justice system. Colorado’s new law changes your opportunities to secure justice if you are one of the many people struggling to come to terms with childhood abuse. Under the previous law, survivors only had until they turned 24 to report the abuse. If you experience childhood sexual assault today, there are no time limits. You can file a claim at any time.
If you’re ready to take action against your abuser and the responsible organization, Gerash Steiner Blanton, P.C. can help. Making a childhood sexual abuse claim is complex, and our attorneys understand the process. With over 75 years of combined experience, we support survivors across the Denver Metro area, including Denver, Aurora, Thornton, Littleton, and Lakewood.
The Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act allows you to speak out and stop abusers from harming more victims. While coming forward with your story can feel overwhelming, a civil suit can bring you peace, closure, and the financial resources you need to heal. Our attorneys will help you tell your story and secure the justice you deserve. Contact us today.