How we view sexual assault and survivors has changed significantly in recent years. More people are speaking out about their own experiences and giving others the courage to do the same.
This has led to increased calls for accountability by perpetrators who got away with their crimes because those they assaulted years ago were afraid to accuse them or assumed they wouldn’t be believed. Many of these assaults occurred decades ago – sometimes when the victims were children.
Colorado’s Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act
A number of states have eliminated their statutes of limitations for prosecuting people for alleged sexual assault and abuse offenses. Others, including Colorado, implemented a “lookback” period that gives people a limited period to sue their alleged abuser.
In 2021, Colorado enacted the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act. It gives survivors a three-year window (starting in 2022) to sue their alleged abuser as well as any organization that was aware — or should have been — that this person was a risk to children.
The Aurora Public Schools case
That law is being challenged by Aurora Public Schools, and the case is now in the hands of the Colorado Supreme Court. The justices are expected to hand down their decision this summer.
The case involves a woman who sued a former high school coach and the school district for the abuse she said she suffered two decades ago. The Arapahoe County court where she filed her lawsuit threw it out, ruling that it “constitutes retrospective action which is unconstitutional.” It was appealed to the state’s high court.
The school district claims it has a right to protection from lawsuits where so much time has passed since the alleged offenses. At least one Supreme Court justice indicated during oral arguments that she understood the importance of this law, saying that “but for this reopening of a window many victims here would not have an opportunity to seek justice for the harms they have suffered.”
How could the decision in this case affect other lawsuits?
What happens if the Supreme Court rules in the school district’s favor? It’s possible that all the lawsuits brought under the law will be thrown out. It’s also possible that state legislature could amend the law to make it more likely to survive challenges. In the meantime, if someone has sexually assaulted you, getting experienced legal guidance is a good first step in seeking justice.