North Carolina Lawmakers Pass Bill to Close Sexual Assault Loopholes

For the past four decades, a loophole in North Carolina sexual assault law made it impossible for a woman to revoke consent after a sex act had begun.

Another loophole, a result of a 2008 court ruling, made it legal to have sex with someone who is incapacitated if that person’s condition was caused by his or her actions — like consuming drugs or alcohol.

Lawmakers in the State Senate and House of Representatives, which are both controlled by Republicans, unanimously approved a wide-ranging sexual assault bill on Thursday that would close those loopholes. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is expected to sign it into law.

“It’s a big win for basic decency,” said Jeff Jackson, a Democratic state senator who represents Mecklenburg County. “We’re no longer the only state in the country where a woman doesn’t have a legal right to revoke her consent.”

The bill, Senate Bill 199, was first introduced in March to protect children from sexual abuse, according to Jay Chaudhuri, a Democratic state senator from Wake County and a primary sponsor of the measure. The bill would expand the requirement to report child abuse, extends the statute of limitations for a civil action for child sexual abuse and tightens bans on high-risk sex offenders’ online conduct with children.

After months of discussions and revisions, the final bill combined four separate sexual assault bills, Mr. Chaudhuri said. The ability for both chambers to put aside politics ended up being a “win for victims” of sexual assault, he added.

Mr. Jackson said he tried and failed to get his legislation covering revoking of consent passed for five years until it was eventually tacked onto Senate Bill 199 as a provision, just days ago.

“This passed because a handful of women came forward and were brave enough to tell their story and found that when they did, thousands of others came to their cause,” Mr. Jackson said.

The North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, an advocacy organization for the rights of sexual assault survivors, worked with elected officials on the legislation.

Skye David, a staff attorney with the advocacy group, said that the political dynamic was different this year.

“In the past,” she said, “it had been led by one political party, but this year we had a strong coalition of members who were bipartisan and bicameral.”

The bill would also expand existing law that makes it illegal to drug someone’s food to include beverages. The provision was inspired by Leah McGuirk, 32, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ms. David said.

In May 2018, Ms. McGuirk was at a bar in Charlotte, N.C., when someone drugged her drink. Within half an hour, she started to lose vision, hear sounds and began convulsing on the floor, she said.

Ms. McGuirk was surprised when the police told her that she was not considered the victim of a crime under state law because she was not sexually assaulted.

After hearing about Ms. McGuirk’s situation, Chaz Beasley, a Democratic state representative representing Mecklenburg County, reached out and promised to write legislation to make what happened to her illegal, she said.

“If there’s a silver lining on this dark cloud,” Mr. Beasley said, “some of the worst days of people’s lives have led to groundbreaking change that will prevent this from happening to other people.”

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