Do Not Single out Nonprofits

Greeley Tribune [Colorado]
February 15, 2006

Arguably, crimes against children are among the most horrendous in our society.

And none is worse than a sexual crime against a child.

It is itself a crime that few pedophiles are ever brought to justice. Often, it's a case of a child's word against an adult's. Or, in Colorado, it could be the victim reporting the crime bumps up against statutory limitations on prosecution.

Three bills currently before the state legislature seek to rectify at least part of this problem. Two of the bills -- House bills 1088 and 1090 -- would allow for prosecution of sex crimes against children without time limits. The other bill -- Senate Bill 143 -- would open a two-year window for victims to file a civil lawsuit against the accused, even if that person is dead or incapacitated.

As the law stands now, a sexual assault victim has until the age of 28 to level criminal charges against a suspect. In civil cases, the victim has six years to file a lawsuit after his or her injury and the cause are legally determined.

According to the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, more than 29 percent of rape victims in the state are younger than 11. Also, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18.

And those are just the ones that are reported. Out of fear or threat, many children simply don't report sexual assaults at all, or not until they are adults -- years after the actual crime occurred.

Victims of sexual assault need all the help they can get. We support any legislation to remove statutes of limitations on the prosecution of sex crimes against children.

But we believe such legislation must include all institutions and not just single out nonprofit organizations, which would include churches.

As it is now, governmental immunity protects public institutions from severe penalties. For example, public schools must be notified 180 days before a sex abuse claim is filed, and damages are limited to $150,000. So we agree with Rep. Dale Hall, R-Greeley, who said last week that he would support the pending measures if the laws were changed to make public school penalties comparable to the ones churches might face.

The bottom line is there should be no statute of limitation under any circumstances when it comes to sexual assault on a child -- no person, group, business, organization should be exempt.

Meanwhile, though, the Denver Archdiocese has launched a campaign against lawmakers who are sponsoring these bills. The Catholic church has come under fire nationally in recent years for harboring accused sex offenders in its ranks, including priests.

Last week, priests read a letter during Mass from Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput that referenced these bills. The letter said, in part, "This is bad public policy and bad law."

While we agree with Chaput that whatever sex crimes law is passed not be exclusive of public entities, we believe the church is trying to inappropriately deflect attention from its own responsibility in the matter.

The Catholic church needs to accept some liability for the priests who sexually assaulted children. It's been shown the church did protect some of these offenders, even moving them to different posts where they again committed their crimes.

We hope the Catholic church does not influence the defeat of this legislation. All businesses and agencies, including churches, should do better background checks before letting their employees have contact with children.

We need to make it easier for sexual predators to be brought to justice in this state. We hope this legislation does not die at the hands of fearful private interests.

The pending legislation includes provisions that would make an institution that employs or protects a sexual assault offender liable for that crime in a civil court. That's what will make this law matter to the young victims, whose lives are forever affected. We urge Colorado lawmakers to protect children and no the right thing by not limiting who is culpable under its provisions.


n Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield: (303) 866-4876; shawn.mitchell.senate

n Sen. Dave Owen, R-Greeley: (303) 866-2586; fax, (970) 330-9600

n Rep. Dale Hall, R-Greeley: Denver, CO 80203; (303) 866-2943;

n Rep. Diane Hoppe, R-Sterling: (303) 866-3706;

n Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud: (303) 866-2907;;

n Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley: (303) 866-2929;


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