Women Can’t Withdraw Consent Once They Agree to Sex in North Carolina

A man who rapes a woman can’t be guilty of “rape” if she had previously agreed to the act, even if she then asks him to stop, under an outdated North Carolina law.

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The legal loophole stems from a 1979 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling (State v. Way), but it has picked up steam in the media in the last few days. That’s partly because lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 553, which would give women back the right to change their mind after consenting to sex.

State Sen. Jeff Jackson, who sponsored S.B. 553, said he hasn’t met “a single person” who thinks the archaic rape law is appropriate. He says his bill “states simply that women can withdraw consent at anytime.”


Jackson, who claims to have encountered the “indefensible loophole” when he was a criminal prosecutor, has made its removal a priority. He stated that North Carolina is “the only state in the country where no doesn’t really mean no.”

If a woman tells a man to stop having sex, he is under no legal obligation to do so, as long as she initially consented. If sex turns violent, the woman has no right to tell the man he must stop.

If it seems like this 1979 law is essentially playing a childhood game of “No take backs!” with consent to sex, you are absolutely right. The law states that, if the woman consents to penetration, her pleas for the man to stop mean absolutely nothing. This is essentially removing all of the woman’s ability to control what happens to her own body, throwing us back in time hundreds of years.

It has been confirmed that this law, while clearly outdated, is still in effect in North Carolina. That means there are women in the U.S. right now who don’t have the right to decide they don’t want to have sex. It means that there are women who are being raped in our very own country, but have no way to bring actual “rape” charges, due to an old law.

According to the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, State v. Way “stands as a barrier to justice for North Carolina victims” and is based on no supporting evidence.

In most courts’ rejections of Way, authors note that Way proclaims its holding without citing any authority or providing any reasoning.

For anyone who thinks laws like this only exist in the Middle East, take a look at North Carolina, where they are still debating whether to pass a bill that would eliminate this sexist and offensive legal provision.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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