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In almost every state, no means no. Except in North Carolina, where no means ... that depends.
North Carolina law is pretty much the same as every other state when one party tells the other, “No, I don’t want to have sex.” Failure to heed that refusal is sexual assault.
In 49 states, the law is the same even after a sex act has begun. If one party says no, it still means no, and failure to stop immediately is still a crime.
But not in North Carolina, where a four-decade-old legal precedent says once a sex act has begun, no means nothing and the other party may continue.
That’s hardly in keeping with contemporary morality or the law anywhere else. It’s a benighted view of sex, rooted in the customs and behavior of a long-ago culture that hardly exists in 2019 — except, perhaps, in the North Carolina Senate, where legislation that would change that horrific hangover from the past appears to have died in a committee.
Senate Bill 563 was written to close the legal loophole and align North Carolina’s rape laws with the rest of the nation’s. The bill had 12 co-sponsors but never got a hearing before the legislature’s “crossover” deadline, by which bills must have been passed by their originating branch and passed over to the other one.
State Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Mecklenburg Democrat, was one of the bill’s co-sponsors. His legislative assistant told a reporter from Carolina Public Press last week that, “It doesn’t look like it’s going to move. Sen. Jackson has not been given a clear reason why. We’re still going to try and find a way to get it done.” Democratic Sen. Kirk deViere of Fayetteville is also a co-sponsor of the bill.
Other bills that shore up the state’s sexual assault laws have had better success in this session. That includes a House bill that makes it illegal to have sex with an incapacitated person — even if the person is incapacitated by his or her own actions, such as drinking. The bill also makes it a crime to tamper with someone’s drink. The legislation passed the House unanimously.
One of that bill’s sponsors, Rep. Chaz Beasley, a Mecklenburg Democrat, said he was pleased to see that the legislation had such overwhelming support.
“We are starting to see the tide change,” Beasley said, “and people are much more willing to make our sexual assault laws better. I remain hopeful that our bill will pass the Senate and make it to the governor’s desk, but we have to keep working and we have to keep pushing.”
That legislation, House Bill 393, has so far had the same success in the Senate as the say-no bill did: It passed on first reading and was referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate. That’s where the remains of Senate Bill 563 appear to be interred. It’s in the state’s best interests if House Bill 393 doesn’t suffer the same fate.
It is, after all, the 21st century, the era of #MeToo movement, which has inspired reform in rape and sexual assault laws across the country. We hope the leadership in the N.C. Senate is aware enough and smart enough to understand that their constituents are living in a new time, with new rules of morality and sexual conduct.
It’s long past time for North Carolina to join the 49 other states in declaring that there are no asterisks, footnotes or loopholes: No always means no.