The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

 Editor's note: This editorial discusses sensitive topics such as sexual assault. 


North Carolina lawmakers have finally closed a sexual assault loophole that has existed for more than four decades. 

On Oct. 31, the right to revoke consent was approved unanimously by the General Assembly as part of Senate Bill 199; a bill intended to “strengthen and modernize” sexual assault laws in North Carolina. 

Prior to the passage of SB 199, North Carolina was the only state where consent could not be legally withdrawn once a sexual act had begun. A decision by the North Carolina State Supreme Court established the precedent for this law in 1979. 

The bill also closed another loophole based on a 2008 court decision. The ruling said that sexual assault laws didn’t apply to those who were mentally incapacitated as a result of their own actions — such as voluntarily choosing to consume drugs or alcohol. 

It comes as no surprise that laws like this one have continued to exist well into the 21st century, especially when we look at who is in charge of making them.

A man accused by multiple women of sexual assault holds a seat on the highest court in the land. At least 25 different women have accused our president of sexual misconduct (and we hardly ever talk about it). And, in February, the Associated Press found that at least 90 state lawmakers have faced public allegations or repercussions over sexual misconduct claims since 2017. 

How can we expect our elected officials to adequately address sexual assault when a number of them are guilty of it themselves? 

These policy changes are part of a larger cultural shift toward sexual assault prevention and victim protection. Since the #MeToo movement swept the nation in 2017, more emphasis has been placed on strengthening sexual assault laws. Also, an increasing number of people have come forward to accuse powerful men of sexual misconduct in what has become known as the Weinstein effect. 

The decision to close this loophole was certainly a victory. However, we still have a long way to go in a country where 1 in 6 women is a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. Establishing the right to revoke consent is the bare minimum, and it doesn’t mean a whole lot when the system is fundamentally broken — a system wherein only five out of every 1,000 rapists will end up in prison. 

To fully address the issue of sexual assault, we must continue to advocate for changes to social and cultural norms in addition to policy. Though our society is remarkably modern in many ways, it lags behind considerably in its treatment of women and minorities. Minimization, denial and victim blaming are commonplace — which is why three out of every four sexual assaults are never reported. 

We’re happy that as far as the law is concerned, ‘no’ truly does mean no. But there are still many people out there who refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer. The loophole may be closed, but it doesn’t guarantee punishment or accountability — justice is something that women everywhere must continue to fight for.

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