Recently, numerous sexual abuse survivors in the state have turned to the NC Protection Alliance on Instagram for a safe place to share their personal experiences and accounts of abuse. The NC Protection Alliance (NCPA) provides a platform for survivors to share their stories and shed light on the issue of abuse within the local community. Survivors have the option to provide the name of their accused abuser and details of the abuse via an anonymous submission form. The Raleigh page alone has over 220 posts from brave survivors and is followed by more than 11k Instagram users. In addition to the Raleigh page, there are also NCPA pages for the Durham, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Asheville, and Wilmington communities. The NCPA Mission Statement states, “It is our hope that by amplifying voices, accountability and change will happen.” As more survivors come forward, change is happening.
As the dialogue surrounding sexual abuse has changed, so have the laws. The General Assembly unanimously passed the North Carolina Sexual Assault Fast reporting and Enforcement Act (SAFE Act), a law that provides significantly increased protections for childhood sexual assault and abuse survivors, in October 2019. As we near the year anniversary of the passage of the SAFE Act, it’s important to remind survivors that they have support and their voices have power. At Howard Stallings, we work with the survivors of sexual abuse and their families to get justice from their abusers. Here, we’re answering some questions we’re frequently asked by sexual abuse survivors and providing guidance on the latest laws put into place to protect them.
What is the statute of limitations for a sexual abuse case?
The SAFE Act extends that statute of limitations to 10 years, meaning childhood sexual abuse survivors will now have until they are 28 years old to file civil actions against their abusers. Further, a victim of childhood sexual abuse will have two years to file a civil claim against their abuser after their abuser is convicted of a felony sexual offense related to the victim’s sexual childhood abuse. The extension of the statute of limitations for civil actions brought by survivors of childhood sexual abuse against their abusers is one of the most significant changes in the law brought on by the SAFE Act. Previously, individuals who suffered sexual assault or abuse as a minor had only three years from the time they turned 18 years of age to bring a civil action against their abuser. Unfortunately, once many survivors felt comfortable sharing their experiences, the short statute of limitations under the old law barred them from bringing civil claims against their abusers or their abusers’ employers for failing to report or take proper action.
Under the new law, any person who was abused as a child and barred from pursuing a civil lawsuit against their abuser by the previous statute of limitations may now file lawsuit between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021.
The time in which prosecutors can bring charges for crimes involving abuse against children is also extended under the SAFE Act. Specifically, prosecutors now have up to 10 years after the date of the crime to bring a misdemeanor criminal action against an abuser. Those crimes include sexual battery, indecent liberties with a child, misdemeanor child abuse, and failure to report child abuse. There is no statute of limitations for felony crimes, so this portion of the law applies only to misdemeanor charges.
These changes in both the civil and criminal statute of limitations allow survivors additional time to process the trauma and to decide whether they want to pursue legal action against their abuser. The science of trauma has indicated that it can take years, or even decades, into adulthood for victims of childhood abuse to process, understand, and heal from their abuse. These changes are intended to give victims additional time to process and heal before they are forever barred from filing a civil lawsuit.
What is the Definition of Sexual Assault?
The SAFE Act provides additional support of sexual abuse survivors by strengthening the existing definitions of sexual assault. Prior to the SAFE Act, North Carolina was the last state in the country where an individual could not revoke consent to have sex with someone. The SAFE Act expands the definition of rape and sexual assault to include any acts which are done either without consent of the other person or after the other person has revoked their consent in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to understand that consent has been revoked.
Who Can Report Child Abuse?
The SAFE Act requires 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 that crime to local law enforcement, regardless of the abuser’s relationship to the child. Failure to report constitutes a Class 1 misdemeanor. Prior to passage of the SAFE Act, the law only required a person to report suspected sexual abuse against a child when the suspected abuser was in a parental role and in a residential setting. This left a large gap in mandatory reporting requirements, since individuals were not required to report suspected abusers outside the home, such as coaches, camp counselors, clergy members, or youth leaders.
The SAFE Act also requires all school personnel who work directly with students in kindergarten through grade 12 to receive child sexual abuse and sex trafficking training starting in the 2020-2021 school year. The training must include best practices in prevention, the grooming process of sexual predators, warning signs of sexual abuse and trafficking, reporting requirements, intervention processes, and available resources.
How can children be protected from online predators?
The SAFE Act prohibits high-risk sex offenders, such as sexually violent predators or certain recidivist offenders, from engaging in any online conduct that could cause danger to children. “High-risk sex offenders” are now prohibited from doing any of the following online:
- Communicating with someone the offender believes is under 16 years old;
- Contacting a person the offender believes is under 16 years old;
- Impersonating a person under 16 years old with the intent to commit an unlawful sex act with someone the offender believes is under 16 years old;
- Using any website to gather information on someone the offender believes is under 16 years old; and
- Using any commercial social networking website in violation of the site’s policy that bans convicted sex offenders from using the site, as long as that policy is posted in a reasonable manner that the offender is likely to see it.
The SAFE Act provides other various rights to survivors of sexual assault, including the right to be notified by a district attorney’s office if their sex offender is requesting to terminate their sex offender registration. The survivor must elect to be notified of such request, but if they do, the survivor will have the opportunity to be heard by the court in proceedings related to the offender’s request. The judge in any hearing regarding the sex offender’s request is responsible for inquiring whether the relevant survivor is present and whether that survivor wishes to be heard. The survivor can choose to be heard by oral statement, submission of a written statement to the court, or submission of an audio or visual statement.
Survivors now have more protections under the law and speaking out, through a knowledgeable and compassionate attorney, can help stop the cycle of abuse and make your voice heard. The experienced attorneys at Howard Stallings help survivors of sexual abuse and their families seek justice from abusers. We have never (and we will never) represent the perpetrators of abuse, only the innocent victims who have survived sexual abuse. While the criminal justice system may fail to put an abuser in jail, civil remedies can make the abuser pay for needed medical and psychological treatment for the survivor.
If you have questions, you’re not alone and we are here for you when you need us most. If we can provide any assistance or support to you or a loved one who is a victim of any form of sexual abuse, please contact us for a free, confidential and personal consultation.