By Beth Lawrence
Until recently North Carolina was the only state in the country where a person had no right to revoke consent to a sex act.
That meant if a person changed their mind and said no at any point during the act, they had not been raped as far as state law was concerned. They had merely had sex.
District Attorney Ashley Welch has had to tell a few victims that there was nothing she could do to help them in such cases.
“They didn’t take the news well,” she said. “It already takes such strength to report sexual assault. That process you go through reporting and going to the hospital to get a rape kit, by the time they get to the DA’s office if the law is not able to hold people accountable when a victim had initially consented…”
That changed on Dec. 1.
Gov. Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 199 into law on Nov. 7. The bill makes a number of changes to laws concerning sexual assault and child abuse. The bill garnered unanimous support passing the 50 member Senate by a vote of 49-0 and a 108-0 vote in the 120 member House of Representatives.
“Thank God, it’s not like that anymore,” Welch said. “It’s terrible when they get to us they have suffered this great trauma. We want to hold people accountable, but when that was the law we couldn’t do anything. It was incredibly frustrating.”
Like any good lawyer Welch was occasionally able to find a loophole. If the victim had consented to one sex act and said no to another or said no to having sex a second time, she would try to prosecute that. Often, grand juries and juries did not see things Welch’s way and either declined to bring charges or acquitted the defendant.
The new law changes language in Article 7B G.S. 14-27.20 state law that defines rape.
The section now classifies rape as, “without the consent of the other person,” and “after consent is revoked by the other person, in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to believe consent is revoked.”
The changes, however, are not retroactive. They only apply to acts that take place on or after Dec. 1.
The law also makes it illegal to give out or taint food or drink, a component that is sometimes used in rape.
Offenders sometimes give victims date rape drugs to lessen inhibitions or altogether incapacitate them as a means to sex. “Roofie” specifically refers to the drug Rohypnol but can loosely mean any drug like GHB or scopolamine used to spike food or drinks and render a person unconscious or lower their inhibitions.
The new definition states “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly distribute, sell, give away or otherwise cause to be placed in a position of human accessibility or ingestion, any food, beverage, or other eatable or drinkable substance which that person knows to contain any of the following: Any noxious or deleterious substance, material or … Any controlled substance included in any schedule of the Controlled Substances Act … Any poisonous chemical or compound or any foreign substance such as, but not limited to, razor blades, pins, and ground glass …”
SB 199 also redefines the term mentally incapacitated further strengthening the idea of consent.
A person is considered incapacitated if he or she “is rendered substantially incapable of either appraising the nature of his or her conduct, or resisting,” sexual acts.
“For too long, North Carolina has not protected sexual abuse victims the same ways other states have, and this law closes that consent loophole,” Cooper said in a press release. “This bipartisan legislation goes a long way to protect all victims of sexual assault, especially children, and will help more people seek justice against abusers.”