A number of states have taken steps to expand the rights of survivors of childhood sexual abuse and assault, and North Carolina joined those ranks in 2019 with passage of the SAFE Child Act.
In the sections below we'll look at a few key provisions of this law (the full name of which is the "Sexual Assault Fast Reporting and Enforcement Act"), including an extension of time limits for filing a lawsuit, and creation of a "lookback window" allowing the filing of a lawsuit over childhood sexual abuse even when a claim might have been previously barred by filing deadlines.
A law called a "statute of limitations" sets a firm time limit on a survivor's right to file a lawsuit over harm resulting from childhood sexual abuse—whether against the abuse perpetrator or against another person, business, or institution that failed to prevent or put a stop to the abuse.
Unlike with many other kinds of harm that give rise to civil lawsuits, it can take a significant amount of time for survivors to come to terms with childhood sexual abuse, let alone process the resulting trauma. Meanwhile, a survivor's inability to get the lawsuit process started according to the strict deadline set by the statute of limitations means the option to sue is lost. That means the survivor loses the right to hold not just abuse perpetrators legally responsible, but also churches, school districts, youth camps, and other organizations that may have failed to fulfill their clear legal duties to protect young people in their care.
Until 2019, most survivors of childhood sexual abuse in North Carolina had only three years to file a lawsuit over their harm, and the clock started ticking on the day they turned 18 years of age. Now, under the new statute of limitations rules created by the SAFE Child Act, most survivors can file a lawsuit against abusers (and others who may bear legal responsibility for the abuse) until they reach 28 years of age.
For some survivors, the most important provision of the SAFE Child Act is that it revives the rights of those who had previously lost the option to file a lawsuit seeking a legal remedy for harm caused by the abuse. A special legislative "lookback window" lets almost any survivor of abuse file a lawsuit in North Carolina's civil courts—regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred, and even when their claim might have previously been barred by the statute of limitations—until December 31, 2021.
Note: The SAFE Child Act also extends to ten years the time for filing misdemeanor criminal charges over child sexual abuse in North Carolina (there's no statute of limitations restriction for felony child sexual abuse offenses in the state). Learn more about pressing criminal charges over childhood sexual abuse.
Besides the extension of deadlines discussed above, North Carolina's SAFE Child Act also:
For more details on the North Carolina SAFE Child Act, see this fact sheet from the state's Department of Justice.
For information on how the current state of North Carolina law affects your options for seeking justice over childhood sexual abuse, it might make sense to discuss your situation with a North Carolina attorney. You can use the tools on this page to make a confidential connection with a lawyer near you, or learn more about finding the right attorney for you, and how a lawyer can help.
Finally, for more on the spectrum of help available to sexual abuse survivors, see our companion article Survivor Resources: Taking Action After Sexual Abuse.