In North Carolina, a law in place since 1979 defines rape as consensual sex—and legislation to rectify the error is stalled in the state Senate.
In 1977, Beverly Hester was sexually assaulted by Donnie Way, who threatened to beat her if she didn’t have sex with him. Hester begged Way to stop when he began having sex with her, but he refused. Way was originally convicted of second-degree rape after the judge noted that consent could be withdrawn when questioned by the jury for guidance in their verdict, but the state Supreme Court disagreed. “If the actual penetration is accomplished with the woman’s consent,” its decision read, “the accused is not guilty of rape, although he may be guilty of another crime because of his subsequent actions.” The loophole from State v. Way led to a law saying consent cannot be revoked for any reason after initial penetration.
On March 30, state senator Jeff Jackson (D) filed Senate Bill 553, which would close the loophole. “A defendant who continues the act of vaginal intercourse after consent is withdrawn,” the bill reads, “is deemed to have committed the act of vaginal intercourse by force and against the will of the other person.” Senator Jackson hopes this bill will no longer deny justice to rape victims—but it is currently stalled in the Senate’s Rules Committee with only one week left in its legislative session. Jackson has introduced a version of this legislation every year since 2015—only to have it die in committee each time—and plans to refile it again next year if it doesn’t pass.
Aaliyah Palmer, a 19-year-old student from Raleigh, is speaking out in support of Jackson’s legislation by telling her own rape story. “I’m fully aware of what rape is,” Palmer told her local CBS station. “I’m a woman and I know that no means no and when someone doesn’t listen to no that is rape no matter what occurred beforehand.” Palmer, who was raped after initially consenting to sex, was told there was not enough evidence to pursue a case against her attacked. After the assault, she battled depression and lost her college scholarship.
“I’m not gonna be a silent victim,” she told WNCN, “and if part of that is advocating and getting stuff done so other people don’t have to deal with not getting the justice they deserve then I’m fine with not getting justice for my case in particular. If it still means that other people are gonna have the justice that they deserve cause it doesn’t make sense for people to go through this. Being raped is hard enough and the after effects emotionally are hard enough.”
According to Matthew R. Lyon, states without a strict law for or against the right to revoke consent “still adhere to the common law principle that once consensual intercourse begins, a man cannot be prosecuted for rape even if the woman withdraws her consent during the act.” While North Carolina is the only state with that explicitly asserts that consent cannot be revoked after intercourse has begun, theirs is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to outdated and problematic consent laws. Illinois is the only state with a law explicitly recognizing that consent can be withdrawn at any time during intercourse, and just other eight states have “affirmatively recognized” the same through court decisions—South Dakota, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Kansas and Minnesota.
Consent should not be a partisan issue. Rape should not be a partisan issue. This is an issue that cannot be ignored any longer, in any state. It’s time for lawmakers in North Carolina and around the country to update outdated laws and become more vigilant about providing pathways to justice for women who survive violence.