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Until very recently (in 2019, to be exact), North Carolina had a loophole in its sexual consent laws knowns as the “Right to Finish.” This loophole meant that many women who felt they were raped never got the justice they deserved. 

Now that the loophole has been closed, sexual consent in North Carolina means something new. Here’s what you need to know about the changes in the law and what it means.

What Was the Law in North Carolina?

The loophole that was recently closed was based on a court decision from 1979 by the Supreme Court in North Carolina. This decision held that once a person consents to sexual intercourse, they cannot withdraw it.

Essentially, it allowed someone to agree to have sex but did not allow them to change their mind in the middle of the act. For example, if a woman consents to sex with a man and then during the act tells him to stop, he was able to simply ignore her wishes and it was not considered rape.

What Changes in the Law Mean for North Carolinians

The issue with this loophole in the law was that it simply made consent in sexual situations murky – a no could mean a yes if a yes had already been given. The changes to the law that closed this loophole give anyone the right to withdraw consent at any time during a sexual encounter, even if the encounter started consensually.

What Is Considered Rape in North Carolina?

Under North Carolina state law, rape is defined as vaginal intercourse without consent, with a victim who is mentally or physically incapacitated or disabled, or by force. The law specifically refers to the act of penetrating a vagina with a penis. Any unwanted penetration acts that don’t fit under this legal framework are categorized as sexual assault.

Rape can be charged in North Carolina as:

First Degree

First-degree rape is vaginal intercourse without consent, with the use of a weapon, or by force. This includes acts that result in serious physical injuries to the victim or are aided by other people.

Second Degree

Second-degree rape is vaginal intercourse without consent, with someone who the perpetrator knows is incapacitated, physically helpless, or mentally disabled. This includes almost all sexual acts that involve the use of drugs and/or alcohol.

Interestingly, as many violent crimes in North Carolina decrease each year, rape is the only crime that has continued to increase year after year. In 2018, for example, the murder rate in North Carolina when down by almost 11 percent while rape increased by over 14 percent.

Punishment for Rape in North Carolina

The punishments for first and second-degree rape in North Carolina are serious. First-degree rape is a Class B1 felony, which brings with it a maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Second-degree rape is a Class C felony and is punished by up to 231 months in prison. For both second- and first-degree rape, the penalty can be increased for anyone with prior convictions and the nature of the crime.

A protest sign that says “No means no” stands out among other signs at Atlanta social justice and women’s march.

Consent is something that is hotly debated in many places, but in North Carolina, it’s not as murky as it once was. Women now have the right to change their minds at any point during a sexual encounter. That’s a powerful tool to have on their side, and something that anyone engaging in sex needs to know.

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