If something doesn’t feel right, it likely isn’t. Kids know this. In the name of justice children raise their voices, often kicking and screaming. In fact, most will complain even when the imbalance is in their favor.
Cognitive scientists report that children have a sharp sense of fairness; the pleas from their internal scales of justice, balancing right and wrong, fair and unfair, are active at an early age. Every parent has heard he thunderous protest “that’s not fair!”
Unless the child is silenced.
As I was for years, every time my abuser slithered out my childhood bedroom in the dark of the night. Even at age 10, my sense of justice knew this was terribly, horribly — wrong. As it is for so many survivors, my fear and shame sucked the oxygen out of the room and swallowed my voice. As the walls closed in on me, the clamp tightened on the secret. Suffocating, that little girl folded inward, again and again, until she became so small that the only sound that could be heard was the silence of shame.
Last month, the Colorado state Senate chose silence over outcry, inaction over action. They chose to stand dormant, silencing the voice of children and the numerous cries for justice.
Sen. Julie Gonzales failed the people of Colorado. Yet, worse — she abandoned the children of Colorado. By killing a bill that would have eliminated the statute of limitations prospectively for child sexual abuse and other sexual assaults, she now stands firmly in a rather dark history. By allowing a significant forward step to justice to fade into a dubious promise, she stands in the company of shadowy cover-ups and legislative obstruction. Although some legislation may best wait for a better day and a better political climate, a bill completely eliminating the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse is NOT one of them. She, and her cohorts, may have cunningly killed HB 1296 in the guise of doing better, but the fight for justice will not die. The brave voices of survivors, advocates and citizens will continue to echo through the chambers and into the voting booths until the scales are balanced.
There is a national trend toward the elimination of civil and criminal SOLs and the revival of expired civil claims. Last year 17 states and the District of Columbia passed laws that revived expired statutes of limitation, and many others have extended or eliminated them. We know, thanks to the science and data from CHILD USA , that short statutes of limitation are not only unfair, but they are also dangerous. They block justice for victims, while at the same time, they protect sexual perpetrators and the institutions that conceal them. Statute of limitations reform is prudent public policy, it aids three public purposes: 1) identifying hidden predators; 2) shifting the cost of abuse to those who caused the harm, and 3) educating the public about the ubiquity and dangers of child sex abuse.
Over 95% of states have amended their child sex abuse statutes of limitation since 2002. Ten states have completely eliminated their civil statutes of limitations, and 18 jurisdictions have passed laws reviving their expired statutes of limitation. Vermont is the very best and receives an A+. No political hogwash, no empty rhetoric, no clandestine deals with powerful institutions. Their legislation eliminated the statute of limitations and opened a permanent window. The children of Vermont are the safest in the country. And then there is Colorado, sitting stagnant in the back of the class. Yet again, it receives a failing grade in the course of child protection and justice. Gonzales and her fellow lawmakers cast themselves in a regretful history — they stole the step forward for Coloradans.
As the history of injustice teaches us, the sound of truth will rise; until lawmakers do the right thing, a resounding cry will be heard — “that’s not fair!”
Kathryn Robb, Esq., is executive director of CHILD USAdvocacy.