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Majority Leader Duran: Even decades after sexual abuse, victims need a pathway to seek justice

Aug 14, 2023

This was published in the Colorado Sun on Aug 14, 2023.

As any survivor will tell you, the pathway toward healing is not linear.

Everyone deserves to feel safe and supported in their home, but many children face a very different and dangerous reality. As many as one in four girls and one in thirteen boys in the United States experience sexual abuse. However, we know these numbers are likely much higher given the number of cases that go unreported or resurface decades after they happen.

So, earlier this summer, when the 2021 Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act was deemed unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme Court, my heart broke for survivors across the state. The 2021 law would have allowed survivors of child sexual abuse until 2025 to prepare and pursue civil lawsuits against persons or institutions for crimes alleged committed between 1960 and 2022. This law was a crucial lifeline for those long awaiting accountability.

It took years to pass this law, with survivors testifying and demanding we create a new legal course of action to seek justice, which we did. Despite the best efforts and support from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, this Supreme Court ruling now makes it nearly impossible for survivors to seek the justice and accountability they are rightfully owed. After bravely coming forward and publicly sharing their stories, many survivors of childhood abuse reopened traumatizing wounds only for the court to rip away this avenue for justice. 

After this devastating news, I was reminded of why I stepped foot in the political arena in the first place. As a survivor of domestic violence, I face the pain, in every sense of the word, each and every day. It took years to muster up the courage to leave my abuser, not only to keep my young son safe, but to reclaim my life. I know the feeling of displacement all too well as you navigate a tricky court system, face limited survivor resources and restart a life from scratch. Sharing my story is never easy, but hopefully it makes one less person feel alone in this uphill battle.

Survivors of sexual and domestic violence are already left with barebone avenues to pursue justice and accountability and if your case makes it to trial, it can be retraumatizing and painful to undergo the proceedings. For many survivors of child sexual abuse, this process is overwhelming and the trauma they experienced can sometimes take years, if not decades, to recover — which is well beyond Colorado’s statute of limitations. After listening to survivors and working with advocacy organizations, it was clear that not all survivors come forward right away. Whether it is five years, 10 years or more, are not all survivors of child sexual abuse owed a pathway to seek justice? 

While it might be easier to say “we tried,” I am working towards uncovering solutions that would bring us closer to creating clear pathways for our survivors to seek accountability in the courts. Survivors are counting on us to make meaningful change, and it is our responsibility to see it through. 

During my time at the General Assembly, my colleagues and I have made great strides towards supporting Colorado’s crime victims, including SB22-183 which invested $48 million in critical resources and supportive services to victims of crime and HB23-1222, which created new protections for domestic violence survivors seeking justice in municipal courts. While we accomplish great feats during the session, our work does not stop there. As a member of the Child Welfare System Interim Study Committee, we are moving the needle to make sure Colorado survivors get the resources and support they desperately need.

While this is impressive progress, more must be done and in the wake of the court’s ruling. State Sens. Rhonda Fields and Jesse Danielson, and Rep. Michaelson Jenet and I are determined to see this through with the help of Colorado voters. While we are still working through the specifics, we are looking at crafting a referred constitutional amendment that would allow voters to restore the intentionality of the 2021 Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act.

Our goal remains the same as it did with the original legislation: offer survivors of child sexual abuse a pathway to pursue justice and hold offenders accountable. I want to make one thing clear: Colorado survivors have not been forgotten, and our work will continue. 

Monica Duran, of Wheat Ridge, represents District 23 in the state House of Representatives, where she is majority leader.

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