Child sex abuse survivors can sue in NC for a few more months. Here’s what to know.

Charlotte Observer [Charlotte NC]

October 3, 2021

By Sara Coello

Where are the lawsuits?

North Carolina has an unfortunate history with childhood sex abuse. In 2020, NC became the first Southern state to open a temporary window for child sexual abuse survivors of any age to file civil lawsuits. Is North Carolina actually tracking these lawsuits? Here’s The News & Observer’s special report.

North Carolina’s SAFE Child Act opened a two-year window that allows child sex abuse survivors of any age to sue people who abused them and organizations that failed to protect them. Beginning in 2022, only people 27 or younger will be allowed to file these lawsuits in North Carolina.

Here are resources to help survivors navigate the process.

Finding a Lawyer

The first step is finding an attorney. Many firms work on contingency, meaning clients aren’t expected to pay fees upfront.

The North Carolina Bar Association’s referral service lets people search for attorneys based on an area of expertise, location and language or request personalized referrals online.

The National Crime Victim Bar Association offers a similar service and can narrow searches to attorneys with experience in childhood sexual abuse cases.

Experts recommend searching for lawyers experienced in this type of litigation. It’s normal to talk with multiple attorneys before deciding whom to work with. Out-of-state firms may be able to partner with local lawyers to work together on a North Carolina case.

Attorneys offer advice, but they’re not in charge of making decisions about a case. When it comes to major choices, Raleigh attorney Leto Copeley said, a lawyer’s job is to advocate for a survivor’s wishes.

Trial or Settlement?

Most child sexual abuse lawsuits name institutions such as schools, churches or summer camps along with a perpetrator since most individuals don’t have the means to offer sizable financial settlements.

It can take weeks or months to prepare a case, especially if attorneys need to find businesses that have closed or changed their insurance policies since the alleged abuse occurred.

The vast majority of child sex abuse lawsuits are settled before going to trial, said Daniel Barker, a Raleigh attorney who specializes in such litigation. Negotiating settlements allows survivors to avoid having to go into detail in public documents or courtrooms about the abuse they endured. Though plaintiffs can sometimes file under pseudonyms, documents and hearings will still be public.

Even after negotiations begin, survivors can turn down settlement offers and pursue lawsuits instead. Lawsuits can take years to wrap up.

Support for Survivors

The process of suing in sex assault cases can be exhausting, traumatizing and difficult, survivors say. It’s normal to need extra support.

Child USA has compiled a guide to help survivors navigate legal action.

The North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault has a listing of local resources across this state. Many have hotlines available 24/7. While services will vary based on location, many agencies will connect survivors with support groups, counseling, medical care or legal aid.

For survivors assaulted in North Carolina who now live elsewhere, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network offers information on local resources in other states, with quick help available from its National Sexual Assault hotline (800-656-4673). Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests supports people abused within religious organizations across the globe.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 offers around-the-clock support and crisis resources.