N.C. bill would give child sexual abuse victims until age 45 to take civil action

Updated: Feb. 8, 2019 at 8:34 PM EST
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NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - This week, N.C. representatives filed a bill that extends the statute of limitations so a child sexual abuse victim has until age 45 to take civil action against the perpetrator, and child sexual abuse advocates are voicing support.

“A plaintiff may file a civil action against a defendant for sexual abuse suffered while the plaintiff was under 18 years of age until the plaintiff attains 45 years of age,” House Bill 37 reads.

The current state law allows child sex abuse victims up to three years after turning 18 to take civil action against an alleged perpetrator.

In North Carolina, there is no statute of limitations for felony sexual abuse crimes.

Amy Feath, executive director of the Carousel Center, believes if this bill becomes law, it would be a win for victims.

“We are very much in favor of any options for victims that allows for them to get justice for what’s occurred to them,” said Feath. “Often times, victims that are 45 years of age have probably put hundreds of thousands of dollars into therapeutic services. Sometimes, if they have unfortunately gone into struggle with substance use disorder or other personality disorders, they have spent a lifetime dealing with all of the fallout from whatever has occurred.”

Feath said there are many reasons why a child sex abuse victim might delay disclosing the crime.

“I know that it’s easy for us to try and say, ‘Oh, well it’s just allowing people to try and get money from the perpetrator,’ when that’s not really the point," Feath said. “Those children didn’t do anything to be victimized. It wasn’t their fault when they were little, it’s still not their fault at 45, and if they have an option to get and recoup some of whatever it is...I think every victim should have the opportunity to have that option.”

Even if the bill becomes a law, Feath says it is not an automatic guarantee of justice.

“I think it just gives you one more tool in the toolbox," Feath said. "We are always really, really cautious to be realistic in what we are sharing with our survivors of what they can expect. Even if you’re 45 and you’re trying to file a civil case, there still are elements that will need to be met in order to actually get that case heard. All that comes back to what kind of evidence, what kind of corroborative witnesses, what kind of other pieces do you have that will allow you to put that in front of a judge or jury in a civil matter.”

Feath said a civil case allows victims to seek closure and justice.

"I’ve been doing it for 30 years (and) it still is giving that victim some empowerment, one other option that they can pursue to say, ‘You are not just going to get away with doing what you did to me,' and somebody is going say, 'Whether I get a dime of that court order or not or civil disposition or not is irrelevant.

“I was able to have my day in court. I was able to stand up and look you in the eye, and say, ‘I know what you did to me,’ and that can be very healing and cathartic.”

There are resources available in southeastern North Carolina, including the Rape Crisis Center of Coastal Horizons, Carousel Center, domestic violence shelters, and the NC Bar hotline.

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