Colorado bill would allow civil action on past sexual abuse

DENVER (AP) — Randy Kady says he was in first grade when his teacher began molesting him during class.

Kady, now 54, says his teacher sat him on his lap to “look over” his work. The teacher slipped his hands down the 7-year-old’s pants while other students at his Aurora, Colorado, elementary school worked at their desks.

Kady remains frustrated that no one told him his rights as a child and that he could’ve sought criminal charges against the teacher for the abuse that led him to have anxiety and trust issues as an adult. But under a new bill that was passed by the Colorado Senate Judiciary committee on Thursday, Kady would be able to file a civil lawsuit against the teacher and the school to seek some form of reparations even though the alleged events occurred more than 40 years ago.

“My parents taught me that ‘stranger danger’ was a man in a van trying to get me in his van with candy, so to think of my own teacher as a monster was not something that was even a concept to me,” Kady told The Associated Press in an interview.

Democratic state Sen. Jessie Danielson sponsored the bill which would allow child sexual assault survivors to file civil lawsuits against perpetrators no matter how much time has passed since the alleged abuse.

“We have a new opportunity here to provide these survivors with a new found action, a path forward for the first time ever to be able to hold their abusers accountable and the institutions that covered it up,” Danielson told the committee. Thursday’s 4-1 vote sent the bill to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill’s goal to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assault victims is part of a nationwide push to reassess laws governing the topic. Many states in the last 10 to 15 years have overhauled criminal and civil statutes of limitations, but only a handful, such as California, Delaware, Hawaii and Minnesota, have created “lookback windows” for lawsuits — meaning previous statutes will not apply to victims coming forward with past sexual assault cases.

In Colorado, the statute of limitations currently allows victims six years after they turn 18 to bring any legal action.

Those opposing the bill argued that it would create new legal obligations on past actions, something that the state Supreme Court has decided is unconstitutional, said Richard Collins, a law professor from the University of Colorado in Boulder who testified.

Mark Behrens, a lawyer representing the American Tort Reform Association, argued that the passage of time complicates pursuing civil cases since documents may not exist and the people involved may no longer be alive — further challenging the possibility of a fair trial.

The bill would allow victims to bring action against youth organizations and public entities if the misconduct occurred while the child was under their supervision. It also aims to override state laws prohibiting such actions against public employees and public organizations. Claims could be made against an entity if officials knew about sexual misconduct against minors and no action was taken.

Kady, who testified in support of the bill, said that while it won’t stop sexual molestation from happening, he believes it will create more accountability for institutions faced with the possibility of paying millions of dollars in damages.

He added: “A lot of companies, a lot of organizations, the bottom line is money. And if their bottom line is hurt then they’re gone. You gotta hit them where they hurt.”

Multiple parents complained to the principal about Kady’s teacher’s behavior but the principal and assistant superintendent told parents they were not going to involve the police, Kady said. The teacher was allowed to resign for “personal reasons” and promised he’d seek medical help, according to Kady.

Though Kady didn’t report the abuse, one parent did and the teacher pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse. His sentence was suspended and he was given three years of probation under the condition that he would seek mental health treatment, according to court records.

As an adult, Kady says he still has issues with people in positions of power because of the childhood incident. It also made him overprotective of his own children.

“This is something that I have to live with for an entire lifetime,” Kady said. “I have to live with it till the day I die.”

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Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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