Originally on ABC 11

March 7, 2019

Attorney General Josh Stein joined state lawmakers on Thursday to announce a bill proposing to expand mandatory reporting of child abuse laws and extend the statute of limitations. 

The proposal, known as the SAFE Child Act, also adds new limits on social media use by registered sex offenders and allows prosecutors to convene a grand jury for abuse investigations. 

"Our first job as parents and as a state is to keep our kids safe," Stein asserted at a morning news conference at the General Assembly. "This legislation will increase enforcement tools to make sure abuse is reported and prosecuted-which will allow more victims to see justice and put more abusers behind bars." 

The four key components to the bill are as follows: 

*Requires any person or organization to report all reasonably suspected child abuse, including adults who live outside the home like coaches, camp counselors, clergy members and teachers. Currently, it is only mandatory to report child abuse when the abuser is in a parental role and in a residential setting. 

*Extend the statute of limitations to 10 years for misdemeanor child abuse, and to age 50 for the victim to file a lawsuit against their abuser. The current law for misdemeanors is two years statute of limitations and age 21 for civil suits. 

*Impose new regulations on high-risk sex offenders, outlawing them from contacting minors using social media or social networking sites. 

*Enable prosecutors to seek a grand jury to investigate claims of sexual abuse, with the power to question witnesses under oath and subpoena documents. Currently, NC law stipulates only drug trafficking and human trafficking cases can use investigative grand juries. 

According to the Child Advocacy Center of North Carolina, there were up to 9,000 cases of child abuse, the majority of them sexually abused. 

Judith Davis, a survivor who also facilitates a support group of adult survivors in the Triangle, tells ABC11 she thinks the new legislation if passed, will be a big victory for adult survivors still learning to live with their pain. 

"It's a process - first you have to remember and then grieve for what was lost and what was done. Then the healing process is when we can stand up straight and be our full selves and act as adults in the world." 

Davis, 73, would not be able to take advantage of the new statute of limitations, if passed. Still, she thinks the opportunity for adults to file lawsuits are both symbolic and tangible "victories." 

"Getting help costs money," Davis says, explaining why survivors pursue civil judgments. "The public declaration is also an act of victory - that it would be known what was done and to declare publicly that the shame is not mine, the shame is on the perpetrator, on the person who did the abuse." 

The SAFE Child Act appears to have bipartisan support, including the important endorsements of House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate President Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).