North Carolina is in the midst of an ethical debate demoralizing women’s rights to revoke consent during an act of sexual relations. According to state law once initial consent is given by a woman, that consent cannot be withdrawn. Her attacker is backed by the legal system to continue an assault without punishment.
Rape happens to both sexes in many different types of circumstances, but the focus of this article is not about every circumstance, the focus is about men who rape women when she has withdrawn permission. Women must stand their ground; like men, they have inalienable rights to control what happens to their bodies whether their decision is to give consent or not. If she becomes uncomfortable or if she suddenly realizes she made a mistake, she does not have to endure whatever treatment her partner feels suitable.
Rape victims often fear reporting this crime because of the treatment they receive from the judicial system as well as public opinion. “She wanted it; she’s lying because it made her look like a slut.” This is just one example of why pursuing justice is so difficult for rape victims. North Carolina law that does allowing revoked consent adds difficulty to prosecuting defendants.
We are the only state in the nation where this abomination of a law continues. Currently, this legislation applies only to vaginal intercourse. In an era of educating both men and women about sexual assault, this throws our fight against violence against women back to an era when women were treated as a man’s possession to treat as he wishes.
In the 1979 case State v. Way, a young woman had given her date permission to have intercourse, she immediately became uncomfortable and changed her mind. She voiced a sincere “no” which angered the defendant, but he continued to physically and sexually assault her. He was initially found guilty but was acquitted on appeal. She not only suffered the assault but had to relive the violation in front of the courts and watch the man walk free.
All states, excluding NC have adopted the protections of NC’s Senate Bill 505, “Revoke Consent for Intercourse”. This is the ability to withdraw consent at any time during the act making it punishable by law to continue. In North Carolina, however, State v. Way set the opposite precedent.
State Senators Jeff Jackson, Joyce Krawiec and Shirley Randleman have been attempting to eradicate this bill, urging fellow members of Congress to support SB 505. Surprisingly, this has proven difficult to accomplish.
What is the rationale for one state to enforce such a heinous bill and what message does this send to victims of sexual assault? In NC, a perpetrator can successfully rape someone if they can first persuade their prey into uttering either a meek permissive phrase, letting body language communicate acceptance for them or eagerly follow someone’s lead. This allows the offender to carry forth with their depraved behavior. “Dude, she was all over me. Everybody saw she wanted me.” Sometimes a man does not need to hear the word yes to believe he has been given permission.
Many assaults, especially on college campuses, occur once alcohol has become a factor. Whether a female is encouraged to drink by a male with intentions of loosening her up to accept his advances or she has gotten drunk on her own free will, this essentially opens up a porthole for a potentially disastrous situation. “Hey girl, I’ve been checking you out all night! How about we find somewhere quiet so we can get to know each other?” Intentions appear innocently enough when a girl is being solicited, especially once she has a few drinks. He may take her hand and lead her into a quiet area where they know they won’t be under others surveillance.
With alcohol involved we lose our ability to make rational decisions – ones we will regret once we sober up. Often, while drunk, mannerisms become sultry and flirtatious sending mixed signals. We are required to notice red flags in others behaviors. Who will protect the victim once they become isolated from others? We are taught no means no, where are the lessons about an encounter when yes turns into no and the person suddenly being denied refuses to believe the tables are being turned on them? These are the blurred lines between consensual and nonconsensual relations between any two people.
According to NC law, “If the actual penetration is accomplished with the woman’s consent, the accused is not guilty of rape”. Under the proposed bill, “A person may withdraw consent to engage in vaginal intercourse in the middle of the intercourse, even if the actual penetration is accomplished with consent and even if there is only one act of vaginal intercourse.”
If we cannot protect ourselves we turn to the law for comfort. Little did we know that the law did not have our back in this state we call home.