RALEIGH, North Carolina – A bill languishing in the North Carolina state senate could clarify the state’s definition of sexual consent and close what some are calling a “legal loophole” for rape.
North Carolina is the only state where you can’t legally withdraw consent once a sex act has started, says Democratic state Sen. Jeff Jackson. He’s the primary sponsor of SB 563.
“I think the importance of this issue is self-evident,” Jackson tells CNN. “I just don’t think we can defend a loophole in our rape law that allows this.”
Even though Jackson says there’s strong bipartisan support for SB 563, it wasn’t addressed in time for the state Senate’s crossover deadline. Now, the only way the bill can be passed this year, Jackson says, is if it is added as an amendment to another bill.
It’s based on a 1979 case
Currently, the state’s stance on sexual consent is based on a precedent decided in a 1979 case of sexual assault.
In the decision, a North Carolina Supreme Court Justice stated “If the actual penetration is accomplished with the woman’s consent, the accused is not guilty of rape, although he may be guilty of another crime because of his subsequent actions.”
In other words, once consent is given, it cannot legally be taken away.
The language of SB 563 would change that, allowing a person to withdraw legal consent once a sexual act began.
“A person who consents to vaginal intercourse or to a sexual act can withdraw that consent at any time during the course of that vaginal intercourse or sexual act,” the bill reads.
“A defendant who continues the act of vaginal intercourse after consent is withdrawn is deemed to have committed the act of vaginal intercourse by force and against the will of the other person. A defendant who continues the sexual act after consent is withdrawn is deemed to have committed the sexual act by force and against the will of the other person.”
The only state among 50
When discussing the difference between North Carolina’s legal framing of consent and the rest of the country’s, Jackson points to research conducted by the University of North Carolina School of Government that concludes North Carolina is the only state that specifically disallows revoking consent.
“What you’ll see is that a number of states … don’t address this specifically in their law,” Jackson says. “According to reviews that have been done, North Carolina is the only state that affirmatively limits consent in this way.”
The 40-year-old precedent has attracted national criticism for years.
“In the conversations that I’ve had, people are overwhelmingly supportive of closing this loophole, and why wouldn’t they be?” he says. “I have yet to have a conversation with a legislator that doesn’t support it either.”