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Consent Law in North Carolina Forbids Women to Say “No”

woman sculpture holding scales

Rape happens when there is no consent for a sexual act. It is one of the most horrifying and heartbreaking experiences a woman can go through. In the ideal scenario, the perpetrator is put behind bars, preventing him from harming another victim. But in some cases, outdated laws about consent actually harm victims by keeping violent criminals out of prison.

In North Carolina, survivors of rape are struggling to find justice due to an almost 40-year-old legal loophole which denies women the right to withdraw consent. What happens to women when the government dismisses the victim, allowing the crime to go unpunished?

In the United States, laws are based on precedent—meaning when a principle is decided in a case, it sets a rule to follow for subsequent cases. A precedent was established by a 1979 ruling, State v. Way, wherein a man named Donnie Leon Way used extreme violence to force an acquaintance to submit to rape and oral sex.

The court found that the man was not guilty of rape if he continued to have intercourse with a woman who asked him to stop, so long as she agreed to the act at the beginning.

North Carolina is the only state that abides by such a law. Although women testified how the law has harmed them, efforts to change it have failed. However, this year a new bill has been introduced into the legislature with the intent to amend the law.

Justice Not Served for These Survivors

Two rape survivors recently came forward with their stories and even pressed charges against their perpetrators. However, their outcomes were far from just.

Nineteen-year-old Aaliyah Palmer was at a party when she was approached by a man who took her into the bathroom for sex. At first, Aaliyah was willing—until things took a violent turn. He began pulling out her hair. The young woman repeatedly asked the man to stop, but he did not listen. Hearing signs of distress, other partygoers slipped cellphones under the bathroom door to film the rape. Astonishingly, the rapist was never charged with a crime. However, others at the party were charged in connection with filming the sexual act.

Since the incident, Aaliyah has withdrawn from college due to panic attacks. She is at least the second woman in the past two months to publicly come forward with a story about withdrawing consent, only to find out that her perpetrator would not receive a rape charge.

“If I tell you no and you kept going, that’s rape.” – Aaliyah Palmer

In a similar story, Amy Guy from Wake County was shocked when her estranged husband came home drunk, demanding sex. At first, she agreed out of fear, but when he became violent, she pleaded with him to stop. He did not. The man was initially charged with second-degree rape, but because of the 1979 law, the rape charge was dropped to a misdemeanor assault charge.

When Perpetrators Walk Free

When a victim is raped, emotions and confusion can prevent the individual from reporting the crime. Sometimes the fear of retaliation or a belief that no one will believe them stops victims from taking action.

Even when rapes are reported, the vast majority of perpetrators do not go to jail or prison. In fact, for every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will not be punished for the crime. That means these perpetrators are walking free in our communities and have the potential to rape again.

In North Carolina, the situation is even worse because the law essentially protects the rapist by redefining the word “rape.” If men convicted of rape in other states have a 99% chance of going unpunished, what chance do North Carolina women have if the government does not acknowledge that a rape took place?

By amending the law, North Carolina rape survivors could be validated instead of dismissed while perpetrators would be punished, not protected.

New Bill Could Pave Way for Change

Over the past few years, legislators including State Senator Jeff Jackson, have attempted to amend the law. However, efforts have been largely unsuccessful. The first bill was proposed in 2015, but it failed in committee. A 2017 version of the bill was initially received warmly, but after months in North Carolina Senate, the bill’s key supporters changed their minds.

“It looked like we had a chance to get this done. I received support from several members of the majority party,” Jackson said. “Then I was told it wouldn’t be happening and that more deliberation was needed.”

Jackson plans to re-introduce the bill in 2018, which would amend the state law to read, in part:

“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 …”

The Senator has high hopes that his colleagues will be ready to end this loophole. “No one can seriously defend this loophole,” Jackson said in a statement. “North Carolina is the only state in the country where no doesn’t really mean no. We have a clear ethical obligation to fix this obvious defect in our rape law.”

Recovery for Victims of Rape

The sociological and cultural effects of rape – from government, communities, police, legal, medical personnel to the perpetrator can significantly affect a victim’s recovery process.

When advocates such as legal and medical professionals support victims following a rape, researchers found that they experience less psychological distress, physical health struggles, self-blame, guilt, and depression.

These steps can help victims begin a recovery process:

  1. Find a safe place to stay
  2. Get support from your local crisis center
  3. Consider reporting the crime to the police and press charges
  4. Determine your options and contact a sexual assault lawyer for advice

Victims of crime may not be aware that there are two different types of cases: criminal and civil. The state determines which criminal cases to pursue; these cases are considered crimes against society. An individual, the wronged party, files a civil suit.

Long-Term Repercussions of Rape for Victims

When a rape goes unpunished, women are forced to live with the psychological and physical effects while the perpetrator receives light, temporary punishment, or perhaps none at all.

A study from ResearchGate concluded that “victim-blaming” by officials and members of the community-led survivors to feel guilty, ashamed, depressed, anxious, distrustful and “reluctant to seek further help” after reporting their rapes. The study found that those who experience these emotions are more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD.

Although appropriate justice may bring some closure to a victim, the painful memories remain, impacting every aspect of a woman’s life.

Every survivor responds to rape differently. The effects of trauma can be short-term or life-long.

Effects After Rape

Chart starting the psychological, emotion and physical effects of rape

In addition to these detrimental effects, rape can also damage a victim’s ability to maintain the lifestyle she had before the incident. One study found that rape victims lost or were forced to quit their jobs in the year following their rapes due to the severity of their reactions.

Sexual violence also affects a victim’s relationships with their family, friends, and peers due to instability and growing mistrust. Thirty-seven percent of rape victims experience relationship problems, including the inability to trust family and friends and isolation.

Your Voice Matters

This controversial subject brings to light some serious questions about women’s inherent right to protect themselves and their bodies.

Angelica Wind, executive director of Our Voice, a North Carolina-based crisis intervention and prevention agency for victims of sexual violence explained, “What you’re basically telling individuals who have been raped is that it wasn’t a rape, and so they’re less likely to seek out services … that would put them on a journey to healing.”

Where should the line be drawn when it comes to government control? Who is the government trying to protect by defending this outdated law?

Help for Survivors of Sexual Assault

Were you or someone you love a victim of rape? If so, contact our office today. Our skilled attorneys have decades of experience seeking justice for victims and holding perpetrators accountable.