By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4)– Some state lawmakers want to make it harder for schools and churches to keep sexual assault cases secret.
The legislation was prompted by a stunning case out of Prairie Middle School in Aurora.
According to a grand jury indictment, school administrators there not only didn’t tell police when a 14-year-old girl accused a teacher of sexual assault, they suspended her for lying.
Five years later that teacher, Brian Vasquez, has been charged in a string of sexual assaults on students.
“Sex crimes are already under reported,” says Sen. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat representing Aurora, “and when (kids) do have the courage to report to an adult, they should take the appropriate action.”
When adults don’t take action, she says they should be held accountable.
Right now, teachers, clergy and doctors are among so-called mandatory reporters in Colorado. That means, by law, they have to report suspected child abuse or face charges. But that law has a statute of limitations.
If they keep it quiet for 18 months after a report is made, they’re free and clear. The administrators at Prairie Middle School were charged with failure to report but, because of current law, the charges may not stick.
Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler says the law needs to change, “The way that law is written right now, people can get together and keep a secret from those who may be able to lend help to a sex assault victim. And if you can keep that secret for 18 months and day, you can avoid all criminal responsibility.”
Brauchler says the statute of limitations should start from the time the abuse is discovered not reported. A bill by Fields would do just that, “If we’re not fighting for our kids and protecting our kids then we’re protecting institutions.”
Colorado’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, and Catholic church oppose the bill. The church says it creates an indefinite statute of limitations. But Brauchler says it’s still 18 months. The clock just starts ticking from the time of discovery.
“You should never ever be able to run the clock out on justice and that’s what this bill is about,” said Brauchler.
The bill is set to be heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee on Feb. 5, at 1:30 p.m. Right now, it is expected to fail.