Catholic World Report

Colorado law allows sex abuse victims to collect restitution in civil court from public, private institutions

Autumn Jones   By Autumn Jones for CNA

The Colorado capitol building in Denver./ robert cicchetti/Shutterstock.

On Tuesday, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed into law Senate Bill 88, which allows victims of sexual abuse to file for restitution from public and private entities in civil court.

The law adopted July 6 permits victims of abuse from 1960 to January 2022 retroactively to collect restitution from employers who knew about or who should have known about the abuse taking place, as long as claims are filed by January 2025.

“For decades, the Catholic Church in Colorado has recognized a need for restorative justice for victims of sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred,” said the Colorado Catholic Conference in a statement. “It is important to acknowledge that this new law could provide opportunities for victims of childhood sexual abuse from other institutions who have previously been denied any form of support.”

Senate Bill 88 is the first opportunity for victims who were abused by employees of public institutions to pursue restitution.

“The Catholic Church in Colorado has run independent reconciliation programs that have paid out money to several victims of childhood sexual abuse,” said Brittany Vessely, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, referring to the Colorado Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program, which was in effect from October 2019 to November 2020.

“Other entities, especially public entities, have previously not allowed for victims to be able to approach them,” Vessely said. “This bill does provide that new opportunity for victims who have been denied any form of support to be able to pursue that path forward.”

Senate Bill 88, however, makes a distinction between public and private entities, allowing for private entities to be responsible for up to $500,000 in damages, with the possibility of the damages being doubled should a judge determine that cover-up was at play. Public institutions are only responsible for up to $387,000 in damages.

“It’s basically the state saying if you are a victim of a private entity employee, you are able to collect more than somebody who is abused by somebody working from a public institution,” Vessely said. “Keeping the caps equal is promoting fairness, and recognizing that a victim of sex abuse is a victim of sex abuse regardless of who they were abused by.”

“The private entities need to be held to the same standard as the public entities, and vice versa,” Vessely said.

The Colorado Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program found zero substantiated allegations against any diocesan priests in active ministry in Colorado, and zero substantiated allegations against any diocesan priests since 1999.

“The program was simple, compassionate, and put survivors in control of a non-adversarial process that provided timely and fulsome restitution and other resources for healing,” according to the statement from the Colorado Catholic Conference.

Senate Bill 88 presents some unanswered constitutional concerns with regards to a retroactive law, which the courts will have to sort out moving forward, Vessely said.

Senate Bill 88 follows on the heels of Senate Bill 73, signed into law April 15, which removes the statute of limitations for all claims of abuse in Colorado beginning in January 2022. Prior to Senate Bill 73, victims of childhood sexual abuse had six years from their 18th birthday to file a claim. There is no statute of limitations for criminal cases of childhood sexual abuse in Colorado


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