A statute of limitations (SOL) sets the amount of time a victim or prosecutor has to file a lawsuit. Typically, if you file a lawsuit after the SOL expires, your case will be dismissed. North Carolina has very different criminal and civil sexual abuse statutes of limitations.

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

Civil Lawsuits for Sexual Abuse

In a civil lawsuit, a victim of sexual abuse demands compensation and damages from his or her abuser. You may be entitled to economic and non-economic damages, including compensation for your pain and suffering.

Unlike many states, North Carolina does not have a specific statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims. Instead, victims are covered by the standard civil SOL. You must file your civil claim within:

  • Adult sexual assault: three years from the event, and
  • Child sexual assault: three years from the victim’s eighteenth birthday.

However, North Carolina courts have applied the discovery rule in some sex abuse cases involving repressed memories. If you were unaware of the sexual abuse, the SOL may not start to run until you could have reasonably discovered the abuse. If you have questions about the SOL in your case, contact a personal injury lawyer immediately for help.

If sexual abuse occurs at your workplace, you may also have a sexual harassment lawsuit under federal law. 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 it will pursue a lawsuit on your behalf. If it decides not to litigate your claim, it will issue a Right to Sue letter. You must file a federal lawsuit within 90 days of the EEOC’s Right to Sue letter. 

Criminal Cases for Sexual Abuse

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. Law enforcement will investigate your claims and a prosecutor may file charges against your abuser. Your abuser may be required to register as a sex offender and may face significant jail time, if found guilty.

There is not a statute of limitations for felony sexual abuse charges. In other words, a prosecutor may file felony charges against a suspected abuser at any time. In misdemeanor cases, a two-year statute of limitations applies. Although felony charges are not time-limited, you should still contact law enforcement as quickly as possible. A prompt report and investigation of sexual abuse may result in stronger evidence—and a better chance that your abuser will serve time.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Sexual assaults and abuse claims can be emotionally draining. They also involve a detailed legal analysis and strict procedural rules. A personal injury lawyer can guide you through the process, educate you about your rights, and offer emotional support. You should also file criminal charges with a law enforcement agency.

If you are facing sexual abuse charges and prosecution, a criminal defense lawyer can help you understand your rights. Time is of the essence, so talk to an attorney as soon as possible.