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Sexual consent bill fails in NC Senate, but supporters ‘remain hopeful’

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A sexual assault evidence kit contains forensic evidence gathered from a victim's body during an intrusive, hours-long examination. Testing kits can find DNA evidence used to identify rapists, boost prosecutions or exonerate the falsely accused.
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A sexual assault evidence kit contains forensic evidence gathered from a victim's body during an intrusive, hours-long examination. Testing kits can find DNA evidence used to identify rapists, boost prosecutions or exonerate the falsely accused.

A bill that would make it illegal to continue to have sex with someone who told the other person to stop has died in a state Senate committee.

North Carolina may remain the only state in the country where someone cannot be charged with rape for continuing to have sex with a partner who told them to stop. It stems from a 40-year-old legal precedent.

Despite the demise of the Senate measure, it remains possible for a similar provision to be added to another piece of legislation. A state representative who has sponsored a separate bill reversing other precedents affecting sexual assaults told Carolina Public Press late Wednesday that he would not object to the addition of such language to his bill, which passed the House without opposition.

Senate Bill 563 would have changed state law to eliminate that loophole. It had 12 co-sponsors but never had a hearing. Most state Senate action ceased earlier this week. State Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, was one of the bill’s co-sponsors. He has tried to advance similar proposals since 2015.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to move,” said Dylan Arant, Jackson’s legislative assistant, via email Wednesday afternoon. “Sen. Jackson has not been given a clear reason why. We’re still going to try and find a way to get it done.”

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Bills that pass through state Senate or House chambers move to the opposite body, where legislators examine the bills and potentially propose revisions.

One bill that passed unanimously in the state House late last month closes loopholes in three other sexual assault laws. House Bill 393 makes it illegal to have sex with an incapacitated person even if the person was responsible for causing that condition. It also makes it a crime to tamper with someone’s drink.

Rep. Jay Adams, R-Catawba, advocated for unanimous passage on the House floor. He spoke of a close family friend whose drink was poisoned 45 years ago. She later died by suicide.

“I think it’s a good bill. I hope it’s as equally bipartisan in the Senate,” Adams said late last month, shortly before the bill cleared the House unanimously.

Another of its House sponsors, Rep. Chaz Beasley, D-Mecklenburg, said he’s pleased the bill received so much support.

When asked how he would feel if the state Senate added a provision to HB393 to outlaw continued sexual activity after a partner withdraws consent, Beasley said, “Any positive changes to our laws are welcome.”

“We are starting to see the tide change, and people are much more willing to make our sexual assault laws better,” Beasley said. He’s hopeful for the bill’s chances.

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“I remain hopeful that our bill will pass the Senate and make it to the governor’s desk, but we have to keep working and we have to keep pushing,” Beasley said.

Charlotte resident Leah McGuirk testified to legislators in favor of the bill in late April. Her drink was spiked at a popular Charlotte bar. She reported the incident to police, who said there was no state law against it.

“I wasn’t technically a victim because I had not been sexually or physically assaulted afterward,” McGuirk said. “It could have very easily killed me had the predator given me an incorrect dosage.”

Beasley said he is not sure when state Senators will hold a hearing on HB393.

This article first appeared in the Carolina Public Press, an independent nonprofit and nonpartisan news organization.

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