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North Carolina Extends Statute of Limitations for Childhood Sexual Abuse

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In November of 2019, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 199, also known as the SAFE Child Act, into law. The bill extends the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, opens an opportunity for previously expired claims to be tried in court, and strengthens existing laws against sexual assault.

Breaking Down the Bill

SB 199 describes itself as “an act to protect children from sexual abuse and to strengthen and modernize sexual assault laws.”

Part 1 expands the duty to report crimes against juveniles, requiring any person 18 years of age or older who “knows or should have reasonably known that a juvenile has suffered violent or sexual offense or misdemeanor child abuse” to immediately report the crime to local law enforcement. Failure to report now constitutes a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Part 2 expands the statute of limitations for misdemeanor crimes involving abuse against children, allowing charges to be filed within 10 years of the crime.

Part 3 protects children from high-risk sex offenders online, banning these criminals from communicating with a person who is under 16 years of age and prohibiting them from inappropriate behavior on commercial social networking web sites. If a high-risk (or previously convicted) sex offender violates these restrictions, they will be charged with a Class H felony. The law also outlines the potential liability of social networking sites in cases where they may have contributed to or profited from child abuse.

Part 4 extends the civil statute of limitations for anyone abused while under 18. Now, survivors may file a civil lawsuit until they are 28 years old. They also have 2 years to file a civil claim after their abuser is convicted of a felony in the criminal justice system.

Additionally, anyone who was abused as a child and prevented from pursuing civil action by the previous statute of limitations may pursue civil action between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021.

This part of the bill not only expands the opportunity for survivors of child abuse to pursue justice, but also calls for widespread training and prevention programs. According to Attorney General Josh Stein, the state of North Carolina is accepting its job to keep children “safe from abuse and violence… make sure abuse is reported and prosecuted… [and] better protect kids online from sexual predators.”

Part 5 updates the right to revoke sexual consent. Previously, it was not illegal for someone to continue having sex with someone who was no longer consenting. Now, consent must be freely given throughout a sexual act, or the act can be considered against the will of the other person and therefore criminalized.

Part 6 modernizes sexual assault laws by adjusting definitions and legal duties and strictly prohibiting drugging someone’s food or beverage. Under the new law, any tampering with someone’s drink is a crime, “even if no sexual assault or injury occurs as a result.”

Part 7 outlines sex offender victim rights, allowing the victim of an offense to appeal their abuser’s removal from the sex offender registry in court whenever such removal is requested.

Part 8 clarifies the requirement that registered sex offenders keep a distance of 1,000 feet from any school or childcare center.

Part 9 officially ratifies SB 199, which became effective on December 1, 2019.

Key Takeaways

This bill is designed to protect sexual abuse victims, especially those who are under the age of 18. It closes a so-called “consent loophole,” clarifies definitions, and fortifies penalties against abusers.

The extended statute of limitations will help children understand and process their abuse and pursue justice as adults.

Perhaps the most pertinent and time-sensitive facet of the bill is the open period for previously expired claims to appear in court.

From this month through December 31st of this year, anyone who was sexually abused as a child is encouraged to come forward and pursue civil action.

If you’re ready to seek justice, now is the time to do it, and our attorneys at Lanier Law Group, P.A. can help. Since 1997, we have been providing compassionate legal guidance to survivors of sexual abuse. While nothing can change the past, we can help secure your future and achieve the results you need to recover.

To get started, give us a call 24/7 at (855) 757-4204 and join us for a free, confidential and risk-free consultation.