• Child abuse victims get more time for civil cases in bill

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    RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Child sexual abuse victims would have until they are nearly 40 years old to sue for civil damages in North Carolina in legislation advancing Wednesday in the state House.

    While felony child abuse crimes have no statute of limitations, young adults victimized when they were under age 18 currently have until they are 21 to sue alleged perpetrators. The measure approved overwhelmingly in the House Judiciary Committee would extend the deadline until age 38.

    Rep. Dennis Riddell, an Alamance County Republican and bill sponsor, said limitations now don't take into account that victims often are well into adulthood before they come to terms with their abuse. Civil cases require lower levels of proof than criminal matters.

    "This is a bill about victims' rights," Riddell said, adding the extended litigation also would help single out habitual offenders: "The goal is to unmask the predators that are out there, grooming their next victims."

    The measure advanced to another committee after members rejected an amendment to lower the proposed age limit to 28. Amendment sponsor Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Surry County Republican, said a 10-year window - from age 18 to 28 - matches the maximum statute of limitations in civil law and would discourage people who may try to sue on flimsy grounds for financial benefit.

    But other committee members said it wasn't about money for abuse victims.

    "We are dealing and with real folks and real victims, and it's time to stop protecting the perpetrators," said Rep. Donna McDowell White, a Johnston County Republican, recalling a sex abuse victim that she knows. "This lady doesn't want a dime. She wants peace."

    Outside advocates for child abuse victims spoke for the bill. A Wake County man who told the committee he recognized in his 40s that he was raped as a child spoke about the emotional pain that abuse victims experience.

    The bill also would give child sex abuse victims barred by the current statute of limitations a two-year window to file lawsuits. And K-12 public school personnel would receive regular training to learn the signs of child sex abuse or sex trafficking.

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