In North Carolina, 'No' During Sex Doesn't Always Mean No

It should be common knowledge by now that "no means no" when it comes to sexual encounters. But in North Carolina, there’s a catch: no means no only up until sexual intercourse begins. According to a draconian state law, a woman cannot revoke consent during sex.


The legislation has its roots in the 1979 North Carolina Supreme Court decision State v. Way, in which the court ruled that a woman cannot revoke her consent after intercourse begins. In the decision, the court ruled that “if the actual penetration is accomplished with the woman’s consent, the accused is not guilty of rape.”

North Carolina’s archaic law has ensnared two women in recent months. On June 22, the Fayetteville Observer reported the story of 19-year-old Aaliyah Palmer, who was raped in a bathroom at a party. At first, Palmer consented, but then told the man to stop once he began pulling violently on her hair. The day after the incident, Palmer went to authorities to report the rape. After Fayetteville police reviewed the evidence in the case, they determined that there was not enough evidence to support a rape charge.

“It’s really stupid,” Palmer told the Fayetteville Observer about the North Carolina law. “If I tell you no and you kept going, that’s rape.”

Back in December, Amy Guy from Wake County was visited by her estranged husband, who was drunk at the time and demanded they have sex. According to WRAL, Guy initially consented to sex because she thought it made for a safer option. But once he started getting violent, Guy told him to stop. He did not.

Guy’s husband was initially charged with second-degree rape; however, the charge was dropped because of the 1979 court decision. The rape charge was lessened to misdemeanor assault on a female.

"I was devastated,” Guy told WRAL. “I didn't understand how that could be because I knew I had been raped. I don't understand how the law can say that I wasn't."

A bill introduced in late March by Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-NC) seeks to reverse the outdated law and criminalize the failure to stop sexual intercourse when a woman changes her mind and revokes her consent. However, the bill has not yet been heard by the Senate and was referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate on April 3. As the Fayetteville Observer noted, the bill will most likely sit for the rest of the two-year legislative session, given the current General Assembly session is nearly over.

Jackson co-sponsored a similar bill along with two other senators in 2015 titled Revoke Consent for Intercourse, according to education institute Women AdvaNCe. That bill also stalled in the Senate after being referred to the rules and operations committee.

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