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Survivor "let down" after CO Supreme Court rules law allowing lawsuits for past sexual abuse unconstitutional

Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act allowed victims to file civil lawsuits for sexual abuse from 1960-2022
Survivor "let down" after CO Supreme Court deems law allowing victims to sue for past sexual abuse is unconstitutional
Posted at 1:04 PM, Jun 21, 2023

AURORA — In 2021, the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act was signed into law, and went into effect at the start of 2022. The law opened a three-year window during which victims of sexual abuse could file civil lawsuits for alleged misconduct ranging from 1960 to 2022.

However, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that law is unconstitutional, deciding it violates the state's ban on retrospective legislation. The opinion stemmed from a case filed against a former Rangeview High School Girls Basketball Coach and Aurora Public Schools.

An attorney on the case, James Avery, said the law was not struck down in it's entirety. Avery said the unconstitutional ruling applied to the retroactive portion of the law.

"Those that have some other viable claim will be able to pursue those claims, potentially against the entities that are now responsible under the new law," Avery said, referencing the new statutory remedy against perpetrators and managing organizations that did not exist before the Act, the provisions of the law waiving government immunity, and the limits on damages for claims under the Act.

Avery believes the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court was not responsive to current events, and instead relied on precedent.

“There was a general understanding in the legal community that if you were trying to resurrect an old claim, you couldn't do that. But you could establish a new claim, the legislature could establish a new claim, so simply, that is what they were trying to do," Avery said.

Avery has a total of seven cases that were filed as a result of the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act. Angelica Saupe is one of them.

“Reliving the nightmare over and over every single night, every time I bring this up, it's hard. It's emotionally disturbing. It hurts my family," Saupe said. “I want justice, but I also want to forget.”

Saupe claims when she was a student at Rangeview High School in the early 2000's she was sexually abused. She alleges her basketball coach was the perpetrator.

“These instances occurred hundreds of times," Saupe said. “No one spoke up, no one was my voice, I was only 14.”

Survivor 'let down' after CO Supreme Court rules law allowing lawsuits for past sexual abuse unconstitutional

Saupe said there was never a criminal case against the coach, even after she reported the alleged sexual abuse to police.

“Last year, the beginning of January, my brother found out that there was a new law that we could possibly sue civilly, even though it had occurred 22 years ago. And so we jumped right into it," Saupe said about the potential she felt the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act had. “We get excited about the new law, we move forward. We do everything that we can; district court lets us down again; and then from there, we're excited the Colorado Supreme Court wants to hear it. And they want to hear my case, right?”

Saupe felt defeated when she saw the ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court.

“I start this process, I go through it, I live through it, and yet I fail. So why would they want to go through the same thing?” she said, speaking about other survivors who are in the same position. “We feel embarrassed. We feel ashamed. We don't get help.”

As sponsor of the original legislation State Senator Rhonda Fields, D-Arapahoe, Adams, plans to bring a new bill forward next legislative session with the same goal as the act.

“My goal moving forward is really to dig deep in the policy, to work with the attorney general's office, to find out what was in that bill that created a loophole or some confusion or anything that caused this. I want victims, child victims, to still have this option of civil complaint," Fields said.

If a new law were to become a reality, Saupe is not convinced she could trust it again.

“Do I want to take time to think about it? Yes," Saupe said. "Am I ready to jump full face forward into another law that might end up in the same place? Not quite yet.”

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