North Carolina SAFE Child Act Under Court Challenge; SNAP Counters
(For Immediate Release April 28, 2023)
A portion of North Carolina’s SAFE Child Act is being challenged in the courts. The 2019 legislation extended the civil statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims to age 28, and also opened a revival window for time-barred claims. It is the revival window that is being called into question.
Institutions and the insurance industry have long lobbied against reforms that benefit child victims, so this move is not a surprise. However, we hope that this latest legal maneuver will once again fail and that survivors throughout the state who filed lawsuits for damages during the window will be allowed to move their cases forward.
Attorneys for the Gaston County Board of Education, in trying to avoid financial responsibility for child sexual abuse that happened on their watch, claim that the revival window is unconstitutional. Teacher and wrestling coach Gary Scott Goins was convicted of numerous sex offenses against students which were committed while working at East Gaston High School. Goin, who was at the school for more than 20 years, was sentenced to 34 years in prison in 2014. He was convicted of 17 child sex abuse offenses, following a trial that exposed a very disturbing pattern of behavior. As a result of the revival window, three of Goans's victims sued the Gaston County Board of Education and their former coach for assaults that took place between 1998 and 2004. The victims were between 11 and 19 years old when the crimes occurred.
In a petition that is set to go before the North Carolina Court of Appeals in June, the Gaston County Board of Education is challenging the constitutionality of opening this temporary window. It is horrifying to us to think that an institution that is supposed to be educating children and nurturing their growth would try to avoid responsibility for damage inflicted on innocent boys under their care. It also seems very unlikely to us that the school did not have warnings about Goin's behavior long before the criminal charges were filed. If the case is side-lined, parents and students may never know which administrators knew what, when they knew it, and what they did in response, and children in the district may be at risk from future decisions made by these officials.
We were particularly offended by the School Board's characterization of the motivation of the legislators in passing a revival window. Their lawyers wrote, “If the Legislature is permitted to select emotionally charged issues and revive decades-old claims, the potential liability is endless.” How dare these attorneys to dismiss legislation protecting children in this way! Little girls and boys do not have a vote and cannot act to protect themselves. Certainly, enacting legislation that exposes institutions that fail to protect the children in their care is a worthy exception to the usual finality of statutes of limitations. This dismissive rhetoric makes us wonder if the lawyers for the School Board have children or grandchildren that they love, as well as what the School Board might be trying to hide. When defense attorneys argue that a child victims act is unconstitutional and that survivors who are currently bringing suits thanks to it should be stopped from doing so, these efforts seem to us to be nothing more than a bald-faced attempt to prevent the public from learning more about the extent of institutional abuse and cover-ups.
We hope the Court of Appeals will agree with us in June and put an end to this desperate, last-ditch challenge sooner rather than later. We hope even more fervently that child victims throughout North Carolina will ultimately have their day in court.
CONTACT: Carol Yeager, SNAP Leader Fayetteville/Ft. Bragg, NC ([email protected]), 910-584-9113) Sue Bailey, SNAP Leader Raleigh, NC ([email protected], 315-657-3446) Rene Anctil, SNAP Leader Raleigh, NC, (401-440-4542) Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)