DENVER (CBS4)– Four years after the State of Colorado eliminated the statute of limitations for criminal cases involving sexual assault of a child and extended them in adult cases, a state lawmaker is considering similar changes for civil cases. Sexual abuse can permeate a victim’s life, often surfacing decades later.
While the idea is timely, given Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s recent investigation into the Catholic Church, the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault has been working on it for years.
It’s unclear if it would be retroactive. Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat representing Adams County, said she is still drafting the bill.
Suzi Shotts, a survivor of child sexual assault, said we tell our kids that actions have consequences and yet, in sexual assault civil cases, an attacker only has to worry about consequences for six years. Shotts was just 10 years old when, she said, a family member began sexually assaulting her. She says it would happen again and again until she was old enough to fight back, ending the abuse but not the trauma.
“It wasn’t something that I ever felt I could come forward and talk about as child, so I kept it to myself which eventually made me sick,” said Shotts.
For 30 years she didn’t tell anyone. Now, she uses her voice to help other survivors by helping change laws that work to the benefit of offenders.
“I don’t think that anyone should get away with it just because time has passed.”
In Colorado, survivors have six years to bring a civil suit against their abuser. For children, the clock begins when they turn 18.
“The statute of limitations is simply an arbitrary timeline that serves to protect sex offenders and the institutions that shield them from accountability,” said Raana Simmons with the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Simmons said, on average, survivors who are assaulted as children, don’t disclose the abuse until they’re 52 years old. By then, she said, medical bills have piled up and the statute of limitations has run out. Sexual violence, she said, is one of most costly crimes. It’s estimated the federal government spends $9 billion a year on it.
Simmons believes that eliminating the statute of limitations would shift costs from victims and society to perpetrators and the institutions that shield them, “Perpetrators should not have a timeline because trauma untreated doesn’t have a timeline.”
Shotts underwent years of therapy, but she said the costs aren’t just emotional, “I saw my primary care physician 22 times… I filled 22 prescriptions… I missed work… all within two months. It’s just something that will never completely go away. I will have effects from that for the rest of my life.”
Her perpetrator will never pay the costs she’s incurred. He died. But, Shotts said she’s fighting for other survivors, “I think it would send the message… that people who would commit these crimes will be held accountable, that they don’t get to walk away from it.”