What are my legal rights?
When thinking about your next steps, there are many things to consider after experiencing sexual assault. Some of the questions you may have are: What are my legal rights? What are my rights in Colorado? Do I need a lawyer? Do I have to report and participate in the criminal justice system?
Although we can’t answer all of those questions here, we can provide you with general information and connect you to resources to answer any legal questions you may have.
Colorado Victim Rights Act
Recognizing survivors are an inherent part of the criminal justice process, the voters of Colorado passed a resolution in November 1992 to include Victim Rights as a part of the State’s Constitution. The Victim Rights Act (VRA) followed the constitutional amendment, becoming state law in 1993. The VRA has been updated several times. The VRA mandates Law Enforcement, the Office of the District Attorney, the Courts, Corrections, and Parole and Probation to provide certain information and rights to victims of violent crime. Sexual assault is one of the crimes covered by the VRA. Victims have the right to be heard when relevant (as defined by statute), and to be informed about and present at all critical stages of the criminal justice system.
To learn more about the Victim Rights Act, visit https://dcj.colorado.gov/dcj-offices/victims-programs/crime-victim-rights-act-vra
Civil versus Criminal Processes
There are two legal processes available to you. First is the criminal justice process, which includes working with the police to investigate your sexual assault. This process could take a long time and can include the arrest, prosecution and possibility of incarceration or probation for the perpetrator. Second is the civil legal process, which involves hiring an attorney, suing the perpetrator and/or other parties you believe responsible for your assault in civil court. The survivor can sue for money to cover costs associated with the assault including things like medical and therapy expenses and emotional costs.
To learn more about your options in the criminal justice process, talk to a community or systems-based advocate. For information on what the civil process looks like and what remedies it may offer you, contact Colorado LINC. Colorado LINC stands for the Legal Information Network of Colorado and is a collaborative network of confidential, free legal information services available to crime victims in Colorado.
Another great resource is the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center (RMVLC). This agency offers survivors of violent crime free legal assistance and assistance in enforcing your rights under the Colorado VRA.
One of the options available to you is a civil protection order, more commonly known as a restraining order. If you have a criminal case and the perpetrator has been arrested, there is likely a mandatory criminal protection order in place. This order will stay in place for the duration of the criminal process. If charges are not filed against the perpetrator by the district attorney, or the case is resolved in another way, the criminal mandatory protection order will go away. Therefore, you may want to consider applying for a civil protection order. Protection orders are issued by the court and prohibit the perpetrator from contacting you or people you know. A community or systems-based advocate can help you with this process. Visit our resource map to find a resource near you.
Colorado also provides survivors of sexual assault some rights related to their housing safety. In 2017, Colorado passed a law allowing survivors of sexual assault to break a lease if they are concerned for their safety. In order to access this option, you do NOT need a police report. Speak to a community or systems-based advocate for assistance with this process or contact Colorado LINC for more information on next steps.
Title IX: Sex Discrimination in Education
If you experienced sexual assault as a student, teacher, or employee of a school, college or university, you have rights under the federal Title IX legislation. This includes sexual harassment and sexual assault. Please refer back to your school or college/university for more information on the services and complaint processes available to you. Some colleges/universities have campus-based advocates available to support you or you can speak to a community-based advocate. The Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center also has a Title IX program to help you in understanding your rights in this context.
If you are an immigrant, you DO have rights whether you are documented or undocumented. You can visit our resource map to search for immigration resources near you. There are several agencies equipped to assist you with understanding the legal system as it relates to your victimization and immigration status.