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First-Of-Its-Kind Law Allows Child Sex Assault Survivors To Sue Institutions That Covered Up Abuse

DENVER (CBS4)- On the last day of the legislative session, state lawmakers gave final approval to what will be a first-in-the-nation law.
The bill will allow survivors of child sexual assault between 1960 and 2022 to sue institutions like the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts if their assault was the result of a cover-up by the institution. They will have three years to file the lawsuit.

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Earlier this year, lawmakers lifted the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases going forward but, because the state constitution bars retroactive claims, it didn't help those abused in the past. This bill creates a new type of claim not under the statute of limitations.

Ray Desser is among dozens of survivors who testified on the bill.

"I just got tired of myself and my family being a doormat. So I kind of put my life on hold and I've been part of this process from womb to tomb," he told CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd.

Desser says he was 13 years old when the sexual abuse started and life as he knew it ended.

"I just prayed to die every day," he explained. "I could not live with this anymore."

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It would take 25 years before he could talk about the abuse and by then the statute of limitations had expired along with any hope for justice until now.

"What the real issue is, is the cover-up and that's what we've heard time and time again is the cover-up cuts short the ability to have evidence," said Rep. Matt Soper.

Soper and Dafna Michaelson Jenet are both House sponsors of the bill. The Senate sponsors are Jessie Danielson and Rhonda Fields.

Opponents say the legislation is unfair because it caps damages for public entities that engage in a coverup at $387,000 and for private entities at $500,000 to $1 million.

"The victimization is treated differently between the public and private arena," said Rep. Tim Geitner, who introduced an amendment to address the discrepancy, but it failed.

(credit: CBS)

Michaelson Jenet says she doesn't like the differing caps either but she insists it was a compromise for the greater good.

"If we try to fix that additional problem on the back of this bill, we risk taking away that opportunity for survivors," she said.

In the end, Desser says it's not about money. It's about accountability.

"When I got involved in this it was purely selfish but then after seeing other people, I just have to do something," Desser said.

Even supporters of the bill admit its constitutionality will almost certainly be challenged in court, but they say better to err on the side of survivors.

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