Past Child Sexual Abuse Survivors Have 3-Year Window for Lawsuits

July 27, 2022 | Bill Henry

The secret shame of having experienced sexual abuse as a child is a lot of weight to carry, even for an adult. Unfortunately, it can take survivors decades to push past the trauma and seek justice as part of their healing process. Prior to 2022, too many former victims learned they no longer had any legal recourse due to the outdated statute of limitations. Now they do. In this article, we take a look at Colorado’s new “lookback window” which gives child sexual abuse survivors new hope for justice.

Are You a Child Sexual Abuse Survivor? 

If you are, you could have legal options today that you didn’t have before. Whether you’re just coming forward now or have tried in the past but got turned away by the statute of limitations, a Colorado lawsuit attorney might be able to show you a new way to proceed. Call 303-688-0944 to begin your free case assessment.

New Law Opens Window for Past Child Sexual Abuse Survivors 

In April 2021, Colorado passed The Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act which eliminates the statute of limitations for when individuals and organizations can be sued for committing, enabling, or ignoring sexual abuse against minors.

The new law put abusers and enabling organizations on notice that from now on, former victims can take them to court at any time. No longer can they escape accountability by waiting out the statute of limitations.

That portion of the law is an important step forward, but lawmakers also wanted to address past survivors whose legal recourse against abusers or negligent organizations was prohibited by the statute of limitations.

A Provision for Past Survivors 

In July 2021, the Colorado legislature attached a new section to the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act. Senate Bill 088 temporarily nullifies the previous statute of limitations that prevented past survivors from taking legal action. This “lookback window” revives the rights of survivors to sue their abusers or any institution or organization that covered up or failed to prevent the abuse.

Why is it Called a “Lookback Window?” 

Senate Bill 088 established a three-year opening, or “window,” during which almost any sexual abuse lawsuit can be filed, even if the abuse happened as far back as January 1, 1960.

The window for filing suit went into effect on January 1, 2022, and it will permanently close on January 1, 2025.

How Far Back Can the Abuse Have Happened?

The provision covers any instance of child sexual abuse from January 1 of 1960 to December 31, 2021, providing it meets a criminal threshold. Most acts of sexual abuse against children meet that threshold.

Why Come Forward Now?

Every survivor of child sexual abuse recovers from their experience differently, but for all, it is a deeply personal process. The decision to come forward and file a lawsuit is one that must be weighed against the possibility of reopening old wounds. Then again, finding and holding an abuser accountable can be, for some survivors, a necessary step to healing.

If you have an opportunity to pursue litigation against your individual abuser or their enabler, then the chance to recover monetary damages must be a consideration. However, it should not be the only consideration.

What Kind of Organizations or Institutions Can Be Held Responsible? 

In many cases of child sexual abuse, the individual attacker holds a position of authority or influence over their victim. They could be a schoolteacher, a clergy member, a scout leader, or a youth outreach volunteer. Since abusers in these positions tend to be employed by certain organizations, they might not be the only ones to face civil liability.

Churches, school districts, athletic organizations, and other institutions where adults work with children are charged with a legal duty to protect vulnerable members. This obligation tends to intersect with the principle of “negligence,” which guides most injury-related civil cases.

What Counts as Negligence? 

Here are some examples of how organizations demonstrate negligence or a pattern of enabling child sexual abuse:

  • Failing to screen or monitor employees who committed sexual abuse
  • Failing to report abuse to local law enforcement or state licensing officials
  • Not disclosing cases of sexual abuse to the perpetrator’s future employers
  • Minimizing or failing to investigate credible reports of sexual abuse or misconduct by employees
  • Shuffling abusers to new jobs in different locations where they are likely to continue their behavior against other children
  • Failing to take appropriate disciplinary measures against employees who have committed child sexual abuse

When an organization, church, or school district does not take seriously reports of sexual misconduct or abuse against children in its care, it also fails to contain the problem. Even teachers or clergy who are caught and immediately fired for their behavior often move to new positions where they can continue working with children.

Failure to adequately report instances of child sexual abuse to state authorities, law enforcement, and future employers can make an institution liable if or when the perpetrator finds a new victim. It is not enough to quietly fire the abuser and move on.

How Does a Civil Case Differ from a Criminal Case?

Criminal Cases

There is no statute of limitations on criminal cases of child sexual abuse in Colorado. However, only the individual abuser can be charged in most cases, and conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And that burden of proof can be a difficult standard to meet if too much time has passed since the abuse. Evidence can vanish over time, and key witnesses can pass away or be difficult to track down.

Civil Cases

Civil actions seek to hold perpetrators, and their enablers, accountable for the wrongs they’ve committed against the victim. Lawsuits do this by pursuing monetary compensation for physical and emotional injuries inflicted.

Unlike criminal cases, civil cases need only demonstrate that abuse “more than likely” occurred and that the abuser and/or the organization that employed them are liable.

If You Can’t Convict, You Can Still Collect 

A criminal conviction against an individual actor can certainly make it easier to recover civil damages from them and/or their employer, but it is hardly necessary.

Since a civil claim has a lower burden of proof, it is possible for an accused abuser to be found liable in civil court without a criminal conviction, even if they are never criminally charged.

From a practical point of view, the ability to hold organizations such as churches, school districts, and other youth associations accountable for their employees’ actions is key to collecting compensation. Individual offenders may possess few assets from which compensation can be drawn. Large organizations such as churches and school districts, however, carry ample liability insurance coverage.

We Hold Sexual Abusers and Enablers Accountable 

The three-year “lookback window” will close for good on January 1, 2025. Until then, if you are a survivor of child sexual abuse that took place between 1960 and 2021, you have options for justice or compensation. Our litigation attorneys have the experience and expertise to go after your abuser and the system that allowed the abuse to happen. Call 303-688-0944 for your free case assessment.

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