Colorado Strengthens Protections for Sexual Assault Victims in Court

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Colorado has taken significant steps to enhance protections for sexual assault victims with the recent signing of House Bill 1072 by Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera. The bipartisan legislation, set to take effect on July 1, aims to fortify the legal framework surrounding Colorado sexual assault cases by expanding the state’s rape shield law.

A Look at House Bill 1072

One of the key provisions of the bill prohibits defendants from using a victim’s attire or hairstyle as evidence of consent, recognizing the harmful implications of such arguments in court. This move seeks to eliminate victim blaming and ensure that irrelevant and potentially humiliating information is not permitted during courtroom proceedings.

Moreover, the legislation includes measures to severely restrict the use of a victim’s or witness’s sexual history in court, as well as allegations of prior false reporting. By curtailing the introduction of such evidence, lawmakers hope to foster a more supportive environment for victims within the criminal justice system and discourage practices that can deter them from participating in legal proceedings.

Under the current law, certain evidence of a victim’s or witness’s sexual conduct is considered irrelevant, but exceptions exist for interactions with the defendant. House Bill 1072 seeks to eliminate these exceptions, further safeguarding victims from having their past behavior unfairly scrutinized.

Additionally, the bill adjusts the criteria for introducing evidence related to false reporting of sexual assaults. It requires defendants to provide substantial evidence demonstrating a history of false reporting and articulate facts proving the falsity of previous allegations. This provision aims to prevent the misuse of false reporting claims to discredit victims and undermine their credibility.

The History of Rape Shield Laws

Rape shield laws are legal measures designed to protect victims of sexual assault during trials. For far too long, victims of sexual assault faced not only the trauma of the attack but also the fear of public humiliation in court. Their past sexual history could be scrutinized, discouraging many from coming forward.

The tide began to turn in the 1970s with the rise of rape shield laws. In Colorado, a key case, People v. McKenna (1978), solidified this protection for victims when Colorado’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s new rape shield law. Rape shield laws like C.R.S. 18-3-407 generally prevent a victim’s past sexual behavior from being used as evidence, unless it directly relates to the case (for example, proving consent or perpetrator identity).

This movement wasn’t unique to Colorado. Across the U.S., states implemented similar legislation, though the specifics vary. However, the fight for stronger protections continues. The evolution of these laws reflects a growing recognition of the importance of protecting victims and encouraging them to report sexual assault, and a movement away from the question “What were you wearing?


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