More than 5 million women lived in North Carolina as of July 2016, but they might not have realized this rule was on the books. Under a 1979 state supreme court ruling, women cannot revoke consent in North Carolina after it has been given, leaving the state's women vulnerable to sexual violence without the proper legal recourse. Several other states have ruled that women can revoke consent at any point during an encounter.
North Carolina's law is in the news because of a particular incident that reportedly occurred earlier this year. According to The Fayetteville Observer, a 19-year-old woman accused a man of rape after she withdrew consent during their sexual encounter, which reportedly took place in January. Although she was initially willing, she reportedly told the man to stop when the intercourse became violent, and he did not. "If I tell you no and you kept going, that’s rape," she told The Observer.
Because of the 1979 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling in the case State v. Way, the 19-year-old woman could not pursue legal action against her alleged attacker for rape. According to the Observer, the man had not been charged with a crime as of Thursday. Now, a bill in the North Carolina Senate could challenge the state court's precedent, but the bill's sponsor told the local paper that it isn't likely to make progress anytime soon.
According to Vice, North Carolina is the only state that explicitly prohibits victims from pursuing rape charges if they initially consented. While not all states have legislated one way or the other in this area, several states in recent years have affirmed a woman’s right to revoke her consent. For instance, a Maryland court ruled in 2008 that women can withdraw their consent. A California court ruled the same — five years earlier, in 2003. In 2014, California went a step further, passing a law that declared that affirmative consent could be revoked at any time. Vice reported that Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, and South Dakota also officially recognize a woman’s right to withdraw consent.
In the absence of state-level action, some North Carolina institutions have gone beyond the 1979 ruling to declare that consent can be withdrawn. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the official consent policy states, “Consent can be withdrawn at any time. Once consent is withdraw, the sexual contact must cease immediately.” Johnson & Wales University and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke have similar definitions of consent. Still, these policies can’t necessarily help a woman press charges beyond the university’s disciplinary process.