In recent weeks, the N.C. General Assembly has passed several measures designed to protect children from exposure to obscene and sexually explicit materials and activities. Two bills in particular were both ratified by state lawmakers on September 22 and signed by Governor Roy Cooper on September 29.
The first bill, SB 579—Prevent Harm to Children, is described in the title as increasing the “punishment for disseminating obscenity,” clarifying “restitution for sexual exploitation of a minor,” and modifying “certain offenses related to public morality and decency.”
Prior existing statutes define in part the exploitation of a minor as occurring when one: “Uses, employs, induces, coerces, encourages, or facilitates a minor to engage in or assist others to engage in sexual activity for a live performance or for the purpose of producing material that contains a visual representation depicting this activity…” Felony criminal punishment varies depending on the degree of the offense.
Now, SB 579 also allows for restitution to be paid to minor victims of exploitation. Defendants can be held liable for victim’s medical service expenses; physical and occupational therapies and rehabilitation; transportation, temporary housing, and child care expenses; loss of income; attorney’s fees and other litigation costs.
In addition, this bill made changes regarding penalties for violations of obscenity laws. It was already a crime for any person, firm or corporation to intentionally disseminate obscene material—which is defined in part as material that depicts or describes sexual conduct in a “patently offensive way” and that “…The average person applying contemporary community standards relating to the depiction or description of sexual matters would find that the material taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest in sex…” For such offenses in the presence of a minor under 18 years of age, the crime will now increase from a Class I felony to a Class H felony. Dissemination of obscenity to minors under the age of 13 years will be a Class G felony.
The law against indecent exposure also now includes all minor victims under the age of 18. The previous law had established a crime when the act involved a person 18 or older with a victim 16 years of age or younger.
This legislation can help prevent indecent acts and immoral incidents from occurring where minor children are involved. Incidents such as the one that transpired at Forsyth Community Technical College earlier this year can be met with increased penalties for perpetrators and lower age thresholds for victims.
The second bill, HB 8—Various Statutory Changes, includes a provision to enact the “Pornography Age Verification Act” or “PAVE Act.” As NC Family reported earlier, this measure requires age verification for access to pornographic websites and has been effective in other states that have passed it in reducing the incidents of minors accessing porn sites. This bill establishes civil liabilities, including compensatory and punitive damages, if a commercial entity allows minors access to online pornography. North Carolina now joins Texas, Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Utah, Mississippi, and Montana in the effort to protect minors from the porn industry through state legislation.