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SAFE Child Act Aims To Deter Sexual Abuse

NC Attorney General Josh Stein.
Courtesy of Matt Bush at Blue Ridge Public Radio

State legislators are considering new measures to deter and punish child sexual abuse. A bill filed in the Senate would extend the statute of limitations for such crimes – and expand reporting requirements.

Attorney General Josh Stein said the legislation aims to protect children wherever they are.

"Here's the thing, our children – they're playing soccer at the little league, they're going to summer camp, they go to church on Sunday and youth groups, and they spend a lot of time online," Stein said. "At every one of those places, they're vulnerable."

Dubbed the SAFE Child Act, the legislationwould bar high-risk sex offenders from contacting minors online, under penalty of prison time. And it would allow victims of child sexual abuse to pursue civil action until they turn 50.

"The right for child abusers to wait out the statute of limitations, and leave their emotionally damaged victims with no criminal recourse is going to end in North Carolina," said Sen. Danny Britt. "The scars of child abuse do not magically heal after two years, we have to give a child ample time to realize they may have been abused and summon the courage to seek justice."

Formally called the Sexual Assault Fast reporting and Enforcement Act, the legislation will increase reporting requirements for people who observe abuse of children, extend the statute of limitations for criminal and civil child abuse claims, bar high-risk sex offenders from contacting minors on social media, and allow prosecutors to use grand juries to investigate claims of abuse of children.

"As a father and a former Special Counsel at the North Carolina Department of Justice, I believe there is nothing more important than protecting our children from harm," said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri. "Too often, we know stories or read stories about child abuse crimes. In many instances, we discover that these crimes go unreported for years. The SAFE Child Act tackles this problem head on by giving prosecutors the tools they need and broadening the reporting requirement for institutions and adults who suspect such a crime. It is my sincere hope that we pass the SAFE Child Act as soon as possible."

Lisa Philip is an occasional contributor to WUNC. Previously, she covered education for the station and covered schools in Howard County, Maryland for the Baltimore Sun newspapers.
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