N.C. sexual assault, child abuse laws updated in General Assembly

Posted 11/15/19

The North Carolina government has passed a series of laws that officials say will update and modernize the state’s statutes on sexual assault and child abuse.

Senate Bill 199, titled “An Act …

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N.C. sexual assault, child abuse laws updated in General Assembly

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The North Carolina government has passed a series of laws that officials say will update and modernize the state’s statutes on sexual assault and child abuse.

Senate Bill 199, titled “An Act to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse and to Strengthen and Modernize Sexual Assault Laws,” expands the requirements for mandatory reporting of violent and sexual crimes and misdemeanor child abuse and adds North Carolina to the list of states that give the “right to revoke consent.” The bill was passed unanimously by the state House and state Senate on Halloween and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper on Nov. 7.

“This bill significantly reforms existing laws by closing loopholes and enhancing protections for victims and children,” said Kit Stanley, director of Chatham County Family Violence Prevention Services. “This opens the door for easier prosecution of cases, and it is important that people understand that they can withdraw consent at any time during sexual activity.”

According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 10.9 percent of Chatham high schoolers said they have ever been “physically forced to have sexual intercourse,” compared to 8.4 percent in the state and 7.4 percent in the country. But those who work in the field say that number could be higher.

Additionally, 13 percent said they had “experienced sexual violence,” meaning they had been “forced by anyone to do sexual things,” in the 12 months before the survey. That’s compared to 11.9 percent in North Carolina and 9.7 percent across America.

More general statistics about domestic violence and sexual assault in Chatham are a little harder to come by. The 2018 Chatham County Community Assessment stated the latest available data is from 2015. In that year, according to the report, 427 domestic violence clients and 45 sexual violence clients received services in the county, and the shelter that served clients was full 317 days, or about 87 percent of the year.

North Carolina was the last state in America to pass a “right to revoke consent” law, which means that individuals who previously consented to a sexual encounter can then revoke consent, at which point the activity, if continued, would be considered rape. The statute of limitations on civil cases related to sexual abuse committed against an individual under 18 years old has been extended to the plaintiff’s 28th birthday, and a survivor of sexual abuse can now file a civil action within two years of the date of a criminal conviction for a related felony sexual offense against an individual under 18 years old.

Additionally, all school-based personnel will now be required to receive training in spotting the signs of sexual child abuse and human trafficking.

“This training of all school personnel to recognize and understand the prevalence of these issues is crucial to protecting children and putting a stop to these crimes,” Stanley said. “Raising awareness among professionals who work with children is a great first step to better protecting our children from these crimes which continue to happen and go undetected.”

Anne Chapman, the director of Child Victim Services in Chatham, said the laws give “an added level of protection” to child victims.

Any adult can be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to report a child abuse if the incident should have been reasonably known, and the person who makes the report would be immune for any civil or criminal liabilities that otherwise might be imposed “provided that person was acting in good faith.” The bill also expands the statute of limitations for misdemeanor crimes involving abuse against children.

“This new legislation gives survivors a chance to hold the perpetrator accountable for lesser crimes in addition to any felony crimes where there is not a statute of limitations,” Chapman said. “This also gives law enforcement and prosecutors more flexibility since they can charge all the crimes that are disclosed in these cases rather than just the felony crimes.”

The law also provides additional protections for children online from high-risk sex offenders, clarifies the definition of “schools” in residential restrictions for sex offenders and expands a sex offender victim’s right to know any court proceedings related to the termination of said sex offender’s registration.

Both Chapman and Stanley said the laws will be of benefit to Chatham residents who are victims of these crimes and take advantage of new protections.

“These are new statutes that will allow perpetrators of abuse to be charged and also to hold people accountable who do not live up to their legal responsibility to report abuse of children to the authorities,” Chapman said. “For agencies that provide support and advocacy for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault it is important that they educate survivors about the statues in a way that makes it possible for them aware of their options to hold their abusers accountable.”

Stanley added, “This bill better defines what is abuse and what is criminal behavior, and what protection victims can expect from their community. Advocacy agencies will be better able to support clients, educate the public about these issues, and collaborate with law enforcement and the court system.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence Resources

If you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault and are looking for help, you can call these numbers.

• Chatham Family Violence Prevention Services: 919-545-STOP (7867)

• Second Bloom of Chatham: 919-545-0055

• National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 800- 656-HOPE (4673)

• National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

- News + Record Staff

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