Is There a Statute of Limitations on Sexual Assault?

A silhouette of a woman in distress sitting in a hallway.

Cases of sexual assault are some of the most under-reported crimes, not just in Colorado but throughout the nation. It’s estimated that 63% of all sexual assaults are never reported, with children being the most vulnerable group of victims not likely to report the crime.

Despite this under-reporting, cases of sexual assault continue to be some of the most rampant crimes in the nation. It’s estimated that one in five women and one in 71 men will be the victim of a rape at some point in their life. If you are the victim of sexual assault, we are so sorry that it’s happened, and please remember you are not alone in this.

A critical component of the healing journey is filing a civil claim against your abuser and any other liable party. But before you take action, it’s important to understand the statute of limitations on Colorado sexual assaults. 

At the law office of Bachus & Schanker, our sexual assault lawyers understand the complexities of sexual assault cases. If you have been the unfortunate victim of a sexual assault, our team of attorneys are here to help. We can ensure your interests are represented to the fullest extent of the law.

What is the legal definition of sexual assault? 

The term sexual assault refers to any sexual contact or behavior that a victim is subjected to without explicit consent. In Colorado, the term sexual assault is used as a general umbrella term that covers a variety of unwanted sexually charged behavior, including physical, psychological, verbal, and emotional violations that are sexual in nature.

Colorado state law breaks sexual assault law into two categories: sexual assault as defined by C.R.S. 18-3-402 and unlawful sexual contact as defined by C.R.S. 18-3-404

The Colorado Revised Statutes details that acts including the following fall under the broad umbrella term of a sexual assault: 

  • Sexual penetration of a victim against the victim’s will. This includes circumstances where a victim is intoxicated, mentally impaired, or otherwise unable to give consent. 
  • An actor who is in a position of power and uses their authority to force a victim to submit to sexual acts
  • A victim is in the custody of law enforcement and is subjected to sexual misconduct
  • Sexual misconduct on a victim less than fifteen years of age and the actor is at least four years older
  • Unwanted touching
  • Sexual harassment that escalates into more

How does Colorado respond to cases of sexual assault? 

Colorado sexual assault law aims to protect victims of sexual assault through the state’s comprehensive legislation. The Division of Criminal Justice works alongside other agency partners to defend the rights of victims. If a case of sexual assault is reported to authorities, prosecutors can take criminal action against an abuser to hold them criminally responsible. 

One statewide resource is Colorado’s SANE/SAFE Project, which helps provide medical forensic exams, educational outreach, and other support for victims and the community.

Is sexual assault a felony?

Sexual assault in Colorado is a class four felony. However, there are certain circumstances where a sexual assault can rise to a more serious charge, such as a class three or class two felony.

Sexual assault class four felony 

A sexual assault can fall under a class four felony when an actor rapes a victim, but there was no use of force.

Sexual assault class three felony 

Class three felonies constitute sexual assaults where a victim was raped, and the following factors were present: 

  • The threat or use of physical force or violence
  • A victim was drugged, and a sexual assault occurred without their consent
  • There was a believable threat of imminent death, extreme pain, or serious bodily injury if they did not engage with the perpetrator’s demands
  • There was a believable threat of retaliation against the victim by the perpetrator or anyone else related to the victim 

Sexual assault class three felony 

A class two felony occurs when there is a sexual assault such as a rape, and the rapist was aided or abetted by another individual or multiple individuals. Class three felonies will include actions such as:

  • One or more individuals engaged in the rape (gang rape) 
  • The perpetrator was armed or appeared to be armed with a deadly weapon
  • A victim suffered bodily injury

What is the punishment for sexual assault in Colorado?

The punishments for sexual assault in Colorado are outlined in Colorado Code 18-3-402. Generally, the following guidelines apply to the different charges:

  • Sexual assaults that are classified as class four felonies carry with them prison sentences between two to eight years and/or fines ranging between $2,000 and $500,000
  • A sexual assault that is done by force or involves drugs, as with a class 3 felony, carries with it 4 to 16 years in prison and/or fines ranging from $3,000 to $750,000
  • Class two felonies carry with them between 8 and 24 years behind bars and/or fines ranging from $5,000 to $1 million

Additionally, if an individual is found guilty of a charge as low as a class four felony, they must register as a sex offender. 

What is the lowest charge of sexual assault?

The lowest charge of a sexual assault in Colorado is a class one misdemeanor and is typically classified as an act of sexual battery. Acts of sexual battery can include: 

  • Unwanted touching of an individual’s genital area, including breasts 
  • Forcing a victim to touch an intimate part of an offender’s body
  • Other sexual acts inflicted on a victim without their consent

Factors including a perpetrator’s age and their relationship to the victim can be taken into consideration with misdemeanor charges. 

Sexual assault statute of limitations in Colorado

As with all crimes, there are prosecution restraints for sex crimes in Colorado. Under Colorado law, prosecutors generally have 20 years from the date of an alleged sexual assault to file a lawsuit as outlined by CRS 18-3-402. 

If a victim was under the age of 18 at the time of their assault, the clock for filing a claim does not begin until the victim turns 18. 

There are instances where prosecutors can bring sexual assault charges regardless of the statute of limitations. Charges can be brought forward if the assault was reported to law enforcement within 20 years of the date of the assault or if there is DNA evidence that points to a suspect. 

Unlawful sexual contact statute of limitations in Colorado

Violations of unlawful sexual contact bring with them their own statute of limitations. If the violation is a felony-level charge of unlawful sexual contact, the statute of limitations is limited to 10 years from the date of the incident. 

If the victim was 15, 16, or 17 at the time of the incident, the 10-year deadline starts when the victim turns 18. For all other victims aged 15 and under, there is no statute of limitations.

Misdemeanor charges also have their own statute of limitations of five years. The statute of limitations extends to eight years and six months after the incident for victims aged 15 and younger. 

Civil statutes of limitations for sexual assault in Colorado

Individual victims can also seek restitution by filing a civil lawsuit following their sexual assault. A civil case differs from a criminal case because only prosecutors can bring forward criminal charges. Individuals can take their own legal action via a sexual assault lawsuit to hold their abuser accountable.

Colorado amended their laws so that starting January 1, 2022, victims do not have a statute of limitations they must adhere to if they want to bring forward a lawsuit. Before this amendment, the statute of limitations was as little as one year in some circumstances. 

Despite this amended law, it’s important to speak with a legal expert regarding your case as soon as possible. We understand this is a difficult time, but the sooner you take legal action against your perpetrator, the stronger your case can be. We’re here to help you in any way we can.

Speak with an experienced Colorado sexual assault lawyer 

A Colorado sexual assault lawyer is reviewing a case with his coworker. In front of them is a gavel, paperwork, the scales of justice, a Lady Justice statue and a book.

At the law office of Bachus & Schanker, we understand the complexities of navigating a sexual assault case, let alone taking legal action. We’re sorry you’ve been put in this position. Please know you’re not alone.

Our attorneys are committed to representing you to the fullest extent of the law. One way we do this is through our Victim’s Advocates team. This highly specialized team of professionals works alongside victims of sexual assault to help provide you with the specialized legal counsel you need.


Colorado’s SANE/SAFE Project. (2023).

C.R.S. 18-3-402 (2023).

C.R.S. 18-3-404 (2023).

SB21-073 Civil Action Statute Of Limitations Sexual Assault. (2023).

Statistics About Sexual Violence. (2015).

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