Self defense

Decades pass before most sexual abuse victims work up the courage to admit they were violated, according to former Denver County Magistrate Judge Paul Quinn.

That is, if they’re ever able to acknowledge the abuse. Many are so distraught they’re driven to suicide, he said.

“I could never tell the truth about my sexual abuse,” Quinn testified Tuesday to the Colorado House Judiciary committee, recalling the abuse he allegedly suffered as a teenager at the hands of a Catholic priest.

“It took me 51 years before I could reveal it.”

Given this, the statute of limitations to prosecute mandatory reporters who fail to contact the authorities when presented with allegations of abuse should be 50 years, Quinn said.

Decades are not on the table. But Senate Bill 49, proposed by Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, would nearly double the current 18-month statute of limitations to three years.

It’s a disappointingly short extension, Quinn said. But he nevertheless spoke in favor of it just before the committee unanimously approved the measure, sending it to the House floor -- where it is backed by Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City -- for a vote.

Mandatory reporters are professionals legally obligated to contact police, the Colorado Department of Human Services or the state child abuse hotline when they’re presented with allegations -- verbal or otherwise -- of abuse. Failure to report those allegations is a misdemeanor.

A measure was proposed in past years that suggested a 10 year statute of limitations, but it failed, Michaelson Jenet said. Even the original language this year proposed a five-year time frame before that was whittled down with an amendment that settled on three years.

The extension would be particularly effective in protecting children, Michaelson Jenet said. Approximately 25 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, and 80 percent of those abuses will go unreported, she said.

Mandatory reporters are important because abusers rarely commit a single crime, said Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs. Either the same child is likely to be abused multiple times, or multiple children are likely to be victimized.

“We need to hold mandatory reporters accountable for that failure and the harm that they do,” Carver said. “And extending the statute of limitations helps us hold them accountable to a greater extent.”

“If you don’t report a sexual abuser, that abuser has an opportunity to keep abusing,” Michaelson Jenet said.

Extending the statute of limitations would afford victims more time to share their story yet again, she said.

“Once the child does disclose, that is day one,” Michaelson Jenet said. “And they have three years in which to come back and say, ‘Hey, something happened to me, and I told somebody and they never reported it.’”

“This bill gives us an opportunity to hold people accountable for not doing something that they should be doing in the first place,” said Blake Harrison, a prosecutor in the Denver District Attorney’s Office.

But Tristan Gorman, of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, said he opposes the measure. Eighteen months is the appropriate timeframe for the misdemeanor crime of failing to report abuse, he said.

Extending that clock to three years would be too long for the nature of the crime, Gorman said. He noted that the bill does nothing to the statute of limitations for the abuse itself.

The longer these cases drag out, the more memories and documents are lost and witnesses become unable or unwilling to testify, Gorman said. Thus, defendants could be deprived of a fair and impartial trial.

With the committee’s approval, Michaelson Jenet said the measure could be brought to the House floor for a vote later this week.

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