How victims of sexual assault can sue and get help in North Carolina
Where are the lawsuits?
North Carolina has an unfortunate history of childhood sexual abuse. In 2020, NC became the first state in the South to open a temporary window for child survivors of sexual abuse of any age to bring civil suits. Is North Carolina really following these lawsuits? Here is the special report from The News & Observer.
North Carolina’s SAFE Child Act opened a two-year window for child sexual abuse survivors of all ages to sue those who abused them and organizations that failed to protect them. . Starting in 2022, only people 27 years of age or younger will be allowed to bring these lawsuits in North Carolina.
Here are resources to help survivors navigate the process.
Find a lawyer
The first step is to find a lawyer. Many companies work on contingencies, which means customers don’t have to pay fees up front.
The North Carolina Bar Association’s Referral Service allows people to search for attorneys based on area of expertise, location and language or request personalized references online.
The National Crime Victim Bar Association offers a similar service and may restrict searches to lawyers experienced in child sexual abuse cases.
Experts recommend seeking attorneys experienced in this type of litigation. It is normal to speak with several lawyers before deciding who to work with. Out-of-state firms may be able to partner with local attorneys to work together on a North Carolina case.
Lawyers offer advice, but they are not responsible for making decisions on a case. When it comes to major choices, Raleigh attorney Leto Copeley said, an attorney’s job is to defend the wishes of a survivor.
Lawsuit or settlement?
Most child sexual abuse lawsuits name institutions such as schools, churches, or summer camps as well as an abuser, as most individuals cannot afford significant financial settlements.
Preparing a case can take weeks or months, especially if lawyers need to find businesses that have closed or changed their insurance policies since the alleged abuse occurred.
The vast majority of child sexual abuse lawsuits are settled before trial, said Daniel Barker, a Raleigh lawyer specializing in this type of litigation. Negotiating settlements allows survivors to avoid having to go into details in public documents or in courtrooms about the abuse they suffered. Although complainants can sometimes testify under pseudonyms, documents and hearings will remain public.
Even after negotiations have started, survivors can turn down settlement offers and file lawsuits instead. Lawsuits can take years to complete.
Support for survivors
The prosecution process in sexual assault cases can be exhausting, traumatic and difficult, say survivors. It is normal to need additional support.
Child USA has compiled a guide to help survivors navigate legal proceedings.
The North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault has a list of local resources across this state. Many have hotlines available 24/7. Although services vary by location, many agencies connect survivors with support groups, counseling, medical care, or legal aid.
For survivors of assault in North Carolina who now live elsewhere, the National Rape, Abuse & Incest Network offers information on local resources in other states, with quick help available from its National Sexual Assault Hotline ( 800-656-4673). The Priest Abuse Survivors Network supports those abused in religious organizations around the world.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 offers 24 hour support and crisis resources.