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In North Carolina, No Is Not Always No, If The Sex Has Already Started

While college campuses struggle with consent, and when and how "no means no," a nearly 40-year-old court case in North Carolina says a person can't be charged with rape if their partner revokes consent during sex.

In 1979, the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled in State v. Way that "if the actual penetration is accomplished with the woman's consent, the accused is not guilty of rape."

State Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Democrat, wants this changed. In March he introduced the "Revoke Consent For Intercourse" bill that would make it a crime for anyone who continued to "engage in intercourse after consent is withdrawn." The bill hasn't made it out of the Senate's Rules Committee.

"North Carolina is the only state in U.S. where no doesn't mean no," Jackson told The Fayetteville Observer.

State v. Way is drawing attention because of recent cases in the state.

One woman said she agreed to sex with a man at a party in January, but changed her mind when he became violent. She reported the alleged assault to the police, but found out what happened to her isn't legally rape in North Carolina.

"It's really stupid," the 19-year-old, told The Observer. "If I tell you no and you kept going, that's rape."

Another woman said her estranged husband showed up at her apartment drunk in December, and demanded she have sex with him.

"Since he was getting angry, I figured it would be better to go ahead and agree to the sex because I figured that was the safer thing for me to do," she told WRAL.

But she said he got violent and even though she begged him to stop, he wouldn't.

He was charged with second-degree rape in the case, but because of the 1979 ruling, the charges were lowered to misdemeanor assault on a female. He pleaded guilty and is serving a 10-month sentence.

Sen. Jackson told Broadly that he doesn't expect the bill to come out of committee, but he plans to refile it next year.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tanya Ballard Brown is an editor for NPR. She joined the organization in 2008.