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The statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse lawsuits has been extended in North Carolina, allowing adults who were assaulted or abused as children to pursue claims that were previously time-barred, and introducing a host of other provisions designed to strengthen the state’s sexual assault laws.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed the SAFE Child Act, Senate Bill 199 (PDF), into law last week, which provides changes to the statute of limitations and opens a “window” for previously expired claims to be presented, which is similar to recent legislation passed in New York, New Jersey and California.
The law extends the statute of limitations for sexual abuse lawsuits to the age of 28, and provides additional time for the state to pursue criminal charges. For claims where the North Carolina statute of limitations previously prevented a victim from pursuing a civil lawsuit, there is a now a revival window that allows these survivors of child abuse to pursue claims.
In addition to impacting the statute of limitations, the North Carolina law also makes important changes to consent laws in the state. Previously, it was not illegal in North Carolina to continue to have sex with someone, even after they had retracted consent. This new law changes that.
There are also a number of provisions regarding online predators, and the law makes tampering with someone’s drink a crime, even if no sexual assault or injury occurs as a result.
“Keeping children safe from abuse and violence is job one for parents and for the state. The SAFE Child Act does exactly that, and I am proud that my office drafted and championed the law,” Attorney General Josh Stein said in a press release. “It will make sure abuse is reported and prosecuted – allowing more victims to see justice and putting abusers behind bars. It will better protect kids online from sexual predators. And it will allow adults who were violated as children to sue their abusers in court for the damages they suffered.”
These changes come after recent discoveries that the Catholic Church and other large organizations have engaged in widespread efforts to cover up incidents involving sexual abuse, and prevent victims from pursuing legal action.
A similar law extended the New York sexual abuse statute of limitations a few months ago, resulting in hundreds of sexual assault lawsuits being filed by individuals who were abused as a child. Another almost identical law goes into effect in New Jersey on December 1. A similar California law goes into effect on January 1.
As more survivors of child sex abuse step forward, there is a growing momentum to extend civil statutes of limitations to pursue claims against the perpetrators and institutions that may be responsible for allowing the conduct to occur.