Editorials

Another unfortunate way N.C. is unique

The Observer editorial board

The N.C. Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that it’s not rape if a woman agrees to sex and changes her mind during the act.
The N.C. Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that it’s not rape if a woman agrees to sex and changes her mind during the act. 2007 News & Observer file photo

North Carolina just can’t get sex right.

Last year, legislators spent time debating, passing, then repealing a law that, in part, mandated where people could relieve themselves based on gender, all the while forcing the state to miss out on millions of dollars of economic activity and debasing its image.

Over the final few days of the legislative session, legislators could drag their feet long enough to not close a glaringly ugly loophole in N.C. rape law.

Women in North Carolina don’t have the legal right to withdraw consent during sexual intercourse. While many other states leave this as a legal gray area, only the Tar Heel state explicitly says men can finish sexual intercourse no matter how much or how loudly his partner says no, no matter how violent the encounter, and not be guilty of rape.

A perpetrator can be charged with other related crimes, but not rape. The law was interpreted that way in a 1979 ruling by the state’s Supreme Court and has made it difficult for prosecutors to even bring charges.

It’s why state Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte has been sounding the alarm bells since 2015, when he initially received bipartisan support to close the loophole. But it didn’t receive a vote then and might be overlooked again this year, despite there being no expressed opposition.

“If there are any major objections to this, I have not heard them,” Jackson told the Observer editorial board.

It’s bad enough that women in North Carolina have faced nearly four decades of being told no doesn’t always mean no. That injustice will be compounded if the legislature refuses to treat the loophole with the urgency it deserves. This should not be the law of the land for another day, let alone another year or two.

It’s not surprising that even egregious decades-old laws languish on the books. But once they are discovered and highlighted, there’s no reason for them to remain.

Jackson’s push comes at a time the law and rape are being heavily scrutinized. While an accused’s due process rights must remain sacrosanct, it has been more likely for a rapist to go unpunished than a victim to receive justice. A major backlog of unexamined rape kits still exists, and women are still too often shamed if they supposedly make a mistake in judgment.

Why did she have that extra glass of wine?

Why did she decide to go to his apartment alone?

That kind of thinking recently influenced one of the most high-profile cases in the country, that of comedian Bill Cosby.

While one juror believed Cosby was guilty based on a 2015 deposition in which Cosby admitted to going “into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection,” another told the Philadelphia Inquirer “let’s face it: she went up to his house with a bare midriff and incense and bath salts. What the heck?”

The pursuit of justice involving rape is already brimming with murkiness. Whether a woman can legally revoke consent – at any moment or for any reason – shouldn’t be.

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