North Carolina’s Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse

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 What Is Sexual Abuse? How Is It Different From Sexual Assault?

Sexual abuse is generally defined as any sexual act, with the intent to:

  • Abuse;
  • Humiliate;
  • Harass; and/or
  • Degrade another person, without their consent to do so.

State laws associated with criminal sexual abuse vary according to whether the victim of the abuse is an adult, or a minor child. Child sexual abuse is most commonly referred to as child molestation, while adult sexual abuse is generally referred to as rape or aggravated sexual assault.

A person can be said to have committed sexual abuse when:

  • They cause another person to engage in any sexual act by threatening or causing fear in them;
  • They engage in a sexual act with another person who is incapable of comprehending the exact nature of that conduct; and/or
  • They engage in a sexual act with another person who is physically incapable of communicating their unwillingness to engage in any sexual act.

Alternatively, sexual assault is defined as any sexual activity that occurs without the clear and uncoerced consent of all parties involved. Sexual assault is considered to be a crime in every state, and laws associated with crime forbid sexual activity with any person who is unable to consent for any reason. People who are mentally ill, under the age of eighteen, and/or are intoxicated are all considered to be unable to consent to sexual activities.

There are many different acts which constitute sexual assault. Common examples include, but may not be limited to:

  • Rape;
  • Molestation;
  • Forced sodomy; and
  • Incest.

There are some states, such as Texas, in which the specific term “sexual abuse” is generally used to describe criminal acts of sexual conduct against children. The term “sexual assault” is generally used to describe criminal acts of sexual conduct against adults.

What Are the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Cases in North Carolina?

A statute of limitations, or “SOL,” is what determines the amount of time that a victim or prosecutor has in order to file a lawsuit. Generally speaking, if you file a lawsuit after the SOL expires, your case will be dismissed. However, North Carolina has very different criminal and civil sexual abuse statutes of limitations when compared to other states.

Generally speaking, the statute of limitations that applies is the one that was in place at the time of the sexual abuse. What this means is that even if a SOL has been lengthened since the incident occurred, it may not renew a time-barred claim.

In October of 2019, North Carolina sexual abuse laws changed dramatically due to the fact that the General Assembly unanimously passed Senate Bill 199: The Sexual Assault Fast Reporting and Enforcement Act, or the SAFE Act. This Act amended many different sections of North Carolina sexual abuse and assault laws in order to eliminate legal loopholes specifically associated with:

  • Consent;
  • The reporting of child sexual abuse; and
  • Reporting seexual abuse occurring online, among others.

One of the most significant changes was the extension of the statute of limitations for civil actions brought by survivors of childhood sexual abuse against the abuser(s). Previously, victims of sexual assault or abuse as a minor had only three years from the time they turned 18 years of age in which to bring a civil action against their abuser.

Uner the SAFE Act, the statute of limitations is 10 years; what this means is that childhood sexual abuse survivors now have until they are 28 in which to file civil actions against their abusers. Additionally, a victim of childhood sexual abuse will have two years in which to file a civil claim against their abuser once their abuser is convicted of a felony sexual offense associated with the victim’s sexual childhood abuse.

Any person who was abused as a child, and was barred from pursuing a lawsuit by the previous statute of limitations, may file a lawsuit until December 31, 2021. Additionally, prosecutors now have up to 10 years after the date of the crime in which to bring a misdemeanor criminal action against an abuser. Those crimes include:

  • Sexual battery;
  • Indecent liberties with a child;
  • Misdemeanor child abuse; and/or
  • Failure to report child abuse.

It is important to note that this portion of the law applies only to misdemeanors because there is no statute of limitations on felony crimes.

Civil Lawsuits for Sexual Abuse in North Carolina

In a civil lawsuit, the victim of sexual abuse demands compensation and damages from their abuser. If you have been sexually abused and/or assaulted, you may be entitled to economic and non-economic damages, which would include compensation for your pain and suffering.

Unlike many other states, North Carolina does not have a specific statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims. As previously discussed, the amount of time in which you must file your civil varies according to whether the incident occured when you were or a child, or an adult.

However, North Carolina courts have applied the discovery rule in some sex abuse cases associated with repressed memories. What this means is that if you were unaware of the sexual abuse, the SOL may not being to run until you could have reasonably discovered the abuse.

If sexual abuse occurs at your workplace, you may also have a sexual harassment lawsuit under federal law. In order to pursue this lawsuit, you must file a complaint or charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) within 180 days of the sexual abuse or harassment. The EEOC will investigate your claim and determine whether they will pursue a lawsuit on your behalf. If they decide not to litigate your claim, the EEOC will issue a Right to Sue letter. You must then file a federal lawsuit within 90 days of the issuance of the Right to Sue letter.

Criminal Cases for Sexual Abuse in North Carolina

Criminal cases are filed by the State of North Carolina, on behalf of a victim. In order to file criminal charges, you must notify the authorities of the sexual abuse. It is suggested that you contact law enforcement as quickly as possible, as a prompt report and investigation of the claim could result in stronger evidence and a better chance that the abuser will serve jail time. Local law enforcement will investigate your claims, and a prosecutor may then file charges against your abuser. That abuser may be required to register as a sex offender, and could face significant jail time, if they are found guilty.

To reiterate, in North Carolina, there is not a statute of limitations for felony sexual abuse charges. What this means is that a prosecutor may file felony charges against a suspected abuser at any time.Although felony charges are not subjected to a statute of limitations, again, it is advised that you should contact law enforcement as soon as possible.

Do I Need a North Carolina Lawyer for Help with Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?

If you are in North Carolina and have experienced sexual abuse and/or assault, it is imperative that you consult with a local personal injury lawyer after notifying the police. An experienced and local personal injury attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your rights under North Carolina law, and can help you proceed with filing a lawsuit when possible.

If you are being accused of sexual abuse, you will need to contact a local North Carolina criminal lawyer. Your attorney will inform you of your various rights, and can help determine whether there is a defense available to you based on the specifics of your case.

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