On Nov. 7, Governor Roy Cooper signed into law Senate Bill 199, marking a historic moment for North Carolina. Until now, a loophole in North Carolina sexual assault laws didn’t allow women to revoke consent once intimate contact had started. This former loophole, a result of the 1979 N.C. Supreme Court ruling in State v. Way, made North Carolina the only state in the nation in which women could not retract consent.
The new bill, passed unanimously by both the N.C. House and Senate last month, modernizes sexual assault laws and protects children from sexual abuse. It is not only legal to revoke consent but also illegal to have sex with someone who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. It also extends the statute of limitations for abuse, allowing sexual abuse survivors more time to come forward about previous traumas. Governor Cooper stated, “It sends a strong message that if you know about sexual abuse of a child, you have to report it, or it’s a crime if you don’t.”
SB 199 would not have been passed if not for the hard work of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCCASA), an advocacy organization for the rights of survivors of sexual violence and for those individuals and organizations that assist survivors.
Meredith College has also been involved in bringing about this legislation since this time last year. Sarah Powell, a Meredith sophomore, started by writing an op-ed for The Herald after researching the loophole for a school project, and she then became an advocate for what would ultimately become SB 199. Skye David, a NCCASA lobbyist, helped Powell organize a bipartisan discussion panel with four N.C. state legislators in Kresge Auditorium. Shortly after the panel, Representative James Boles (Republican, District 52) became a sponsor of the bill.
“This is a huge step for sexual assault survivors, who often feel that the system does not support them. We can do better for each other and with each other,” says Sarah Powell. It was remarks like these that Powell gave to the crowd in Greensboro at the bill signing. Powell also spoke with Gov. Cooper after the signing, and he mentioned that his mother had graduated from Meredith. “My mother asked him what his mom would think today,” remembers Powell. “She would be proud,” the governor replied. Powell explains, “I think it’s really amazing that an alumna’s son is governor now, and he’s signed a bill revolutionizing North Carolina women’s rights.”
Also in attendance were Mary Williams-Stover, Executive Director of the Council for Women and Youth Involvement; Tom Campbell, President and Chief Executive Officer of Family Service of the Piedmont; and Monika Johnson Hostler, Executive Director of the NCCASA.
Governor Cooper was the last to take the podium, and he began his remarks to the eager crowd with a sentiment advocates have long been waiting for. “Finally!" he exclaimed; "in North Carolina, no means no.”
By Mimi Mays, Editor in Chief, and Sarah Powell, Contributing Writer