The Definition of Sexual Assault According to Colorado Law | Bachus & Schanker
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, the national leader in sexual abuse and violence prevention, estimates that roughly every 68 seconds an American becomes the victim of a sexual assault. These cases will often go unreported, resulting in only about 25 out of every 1,000 rapists ever serving jail time for their actions.
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, we are so sorry this has happened to you, and please remember, you are not alone. At Bachus & Schanker, our attorneys have helped support victims like you. Our compassionate and diligent team of investigators, paralegals, and attorneys is dedicated to protecting your rights to the fullest extent of the law.
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How does Colorado define sexual assault?
The definition of sexual assault, according to Colorado law, is widespread and is used to describe a crime that encompasses a range of sexual acts perpetrated against an individual without their consent.
There are two main categories of sexual assault law in Colorado. The first category, crimes of Unlawful Sexual Contact, is outlined in the Colorado Revised Statute § 18-3-404. The second category, Sexual Assault, is outlined in C.R.S. § 18-3-402.
Although Colorado law clearly defines the types of crimes that are illegal under state law, victims are often hesitant to report the crime. Fear of being blamed, doubt that what they experienced was, in fact, a sexual assault, and shame are some of the common reasons why victims may hesitate to come forward. Please know you are not to blame for what has happened to you.
Colorado’s criminal sexual assault law
Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-3-402 outlines the state’s sexual assault law and the penalties that follow. Sexual assault cases are classified as felonies and involve non-consensual penetration. The severity of the assault determines which class felony the assault will fall under. Class 4 felonies are the less serious charges, while Class 2 felonies carry the strictest penalties. Additionally, sexual assault may be subject to increased penalties as a “crime of violence” under Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-1.3-406.
Class 4 felony
Sexual assault crimes fall under a Class 4 felony in Colorado. Class 4 felonies are punishable by two to six years in jail, three years parole, and up to $500,000 in fines. The following crimes can be charged as Class 4 felonies:
- An abuser forces a victim into a sexual act against their will or knows the victim is incapable of understanding what is happening
- A victim is younger than fifteen years of age, and the abuser is at least four years older than the victim
- The victim is in the custody of law enforcement, in a hospital, or another institution where the abuser is in a position of power at the time of the assault
- An abuser purporting to offer a medical service but engages in treatment/actions that are sexually violating
- The victim is physically helpless, and the abuser knows the victim is physically helpless and the victim has not consented
Class 3 felony
Class 3 felony carries a four to 12 years prison sentence, three years parole, and up to a $750,000 fine. Crimes that fall under this category include the following:
- The abuser causes submission of the victim through physical force or physical violence
- The abuser causes submission of the victim by threat of imminent death, serious bodily injury, extreme pain, or kidnapping to be inflicted on anyone, and the victim has a reasonable belief the abuser will follow through on those threats
- The abuser causes submission of the victim by threatening to retaliate in the future against the victim or any other person, and the victim reasonably believes that the perpetrator will go through with this threat. Such threats include kidnapping, death, serious bodily injury, or extreme pain
- The abuser has substantially impaired the victim’s ability to understand what is happening or the ability to give consent because the abuser has drugged them to cause submission
Class 2 felony
Class 2 felonies are punished for eight to 24 years behind bars, five years parole, and up to $1,000,000 fines. The following crimes can fall under a Class 2 felony:
- The abuser is physically aided or abetted by one or more persons in the commission of the sexual assault
- The victim suffers serious bodily injury
- The abuser is armed with a deadly weapon, both actual or improvised, and uses or threatens to use this weapon in a manner to cause a person to reasonably believe they will be harmed with the weapon
Finally, if a person is convicted of a sex crime, they will be required to undergo sex offender treatment. This treatment is overseen by the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB). They will also need to register as a sex offender on the national registry.
Unlawful sexual contact
When an abuser subjects someone to unwanted touching or another contact that is sexual in nature (though it does not always have to be sexual in nature) and does so without the victim’s consent, the action can be classified as unwanted sexual contact. Unlike a sexual assault charge, a charge of unlawful sexual contact is limited to physical touching only. With a sexual assault charge, penetration would need to have occurred.
Colorado law defines unwanted sexual contact in the state statute § 18-3-401 (4) as “the knowing touching of the victim’s intimate parts by the actor, or of the actor’s intimate parts by the victim, or the knowing touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of the victim’s or actor’s intimate parts if that sexual contact is for the purposes of sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse.”
Penalties for unwanted sexual contact
The punishment for unlawful sexual contact depends on the circumstances of the offense. Generally, unlawful sexual contact is charged as a class 1 misdemeanor. This charge carries up to 12 months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
In some situations, however, unlawful sexual contact can rise to a felony offense. For an abuser to be charged with a class 4 felony, any of the following can apply to the case:
- There was use of force, intimidation, or threats to compel the victim to submit to sexual contact
- The offense involved a child under the age of 18, and the child was coerced to expose themselves, have sex with another person, or submit to sexual contact
Can a sexual assault victim sue?
Colorado law allows victims to sue their abusers after a sexual assault. Depending on the circumstances of your assault, you may be able to pursue legal actions against other entities alongside your abuser. For example, if your assault took place at a school or in a place of work, you could hold the school and your employer responsible for the sexual assault you’ve endured.
If another entity failed to detect or stop the sexual abuse from happening, they could be held responsible for their neglect as well. Along with schools and places of work, types of businesses that can be held liable in a sexual assault case include:
- Hospitals and healthcare facilities
- Nursing homes
- Colleges or schools
- Church organizations and religious institutes
- Apartments, hotels, and other lodging entities
Colorado is committed to helping victims reclaim their voices, especially those victimized as children. On January 1, 2022, SB21-073, also known as The Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act, took effect. Under this new legislation, sexual abuse survivors have the right to seek civil relief if they were abused as a child.
The law also allows victims to sue schools, churches, and other organizations that cover up the abuse or fail to prevent the abuse from happening. Finally, parents and legal guardians of a child being sexually abused can also sue an abuser or the organization that ignored or enabled the abuse.
What if there was no criminal conviction?
Even if law enforcement is investigating a sexual assault, victims can still take civil action regardless of the current state or the outcome of the investigation. The victim can still sue if a perpetrator is never charged or acquitted of their actions.
When a prosecutor brings forward a sexual assault criminal charge, they need to show that a victim is guilty “beyond reasonable doubt.” The standard or burden of proof is much lower for a victim filing a civil lawsuit. All a victim needs to show is that their abuser was guilty “by a preponderance of the evidence.” This means the victim needs to prove that it is more likely than not that their abuser was at fault for the assault.
Statute of limitations to file a civil suit in Colorado
As of January 2022, victims of a sexual assault in Colorado can file a lawsuit against their abuser at any time. The provision is outlined in the Colorado Revised Statutes § 13-80-103.7. So long as the circumstances surrounding the abuse meet the criteria for sexual misconduct and felonies, a victim has the right to sue regardless of when the assault happened and their age at the time of the assault.
Can a married defendant be charged in Colorado?
A defendant in a sexual assault case cannot claim that sexual assault did not happen because they are married to the victim. Unfortunately, for many victims, because their spouse is the abuser, they may not feel they have a valid claim to take legal action. It is valid, and your voice matters. If this has happened to you, you are not alone.
Colorado recognizes the complexities of these types of sexual assault and has made it so that spousal rape can be considered a criminal offense.
Are sexual assault cases public record in Colorado?
Privacy is often a concern for sexual assault victims. They may not want their assault to be known by others for fear of shame and even fear of retaliation. While sexual assault cases generally fall under public record, prosecutors will typically protect a victim by redacting personal identifying information such as name, birth date, and other personal data.
Resources for victims of sexual assault
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, you do not have to navigate this difficult time in your life alone. Many free national resources can help provide you with guidance and support after a sexual assault.
The Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network is Instrumental in protecting victims just like you. This organization can help connect you with critical resources in your community following a sexual assault. Victims can also contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline for immediate help and support.
What sets the Bachus & Schanker law firm apart?
At Bachus & Schanker, we understand the complexities of sexual assault cases. Our team is committed to providing compassionate support for victims who want to understand their legal options.
Our law firm stands apart from others because we offer specialized guidance provided by our Vicim’s Advocates team. This team is a specially assembled group of advocates who are committed to standing up for the rights of sexual assault victims. This team takes on many roles, including ensuring the appropriate charges are filed, that victims’ rights are represented and protected, that critical evidence is collected and preserved, and that communication between the family and the prosecutor’s office is clear and consistent.
Our Victim’s Advocacy team can also help connect you with critical resources in your community for additional support following your sexual assault.
CO Code § 18-1.3-406. (2022).
CO Code § 18-3-401. (2022).
CO Code § 18-3-402. (2022).
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Written and Legally Reviewed By: Kyle Bachus
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Kyle is a member of the Colorado and Florida Bar associations and has served on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association for more than twenty years in total. Over the years, Kyle has achieved justice for many clients. He has served on numerous committees and repeatedly won recognition from his peers at both the state and national level. He is proud of the role he has played in the passage of state and national legislation to protect consumers and is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer.