Politics & Government

Drugging drinks would be illegal under a proposed law in North Carolina

Monika Johnson Hostler: Dispelling the myths of sexual assault

Monika Johnson Hostler, executive director for the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault on how society thinks of victims of sexual assault.
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Monika Johnson Hostler, executive director for the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault on how society thinks of victims of sexual assault.

Leah McGuirk said when she reported to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police that someone had drugged her drink at a Charlotte bar, the closest criminal offense police could find was the law against tampering with Halloween candy.

“There was not a law in place to define what happened to me,” she said at a news conference Wednesday. McGuirk blacked out at the bar and was carried to a safe place. She felt ill for days afterward.

McGuirk’s experience inspired part of a new bill that its sponsors said would close loopholes and update sexual assault laws.

House Bill 393 would make it illegal to drug someone’s drink, even if the victim is not sexually assaulted.

Another provision says that a sexual assault victim can be legally considered mentally incapacitated if she drank alcohol voluntarily. The bill would also make it clear that county social services departments can take action when they suspect a child is being abused by a romantic partner of his or her parent or guardian, said Rep. Chaz Beasley, a Charlotte Democrat and the bill’s main sponsor.

“It expands protections for our kids,” Beasley said at the news conference.

Monika Johnson-Hostler, executive director of the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said laws are finally catching up to address real-world problems.

“It’s taken 20 years for us to bring North Carolina laws into the 21st century,” she said at the news conference.

In 2008, a state Court of Appeals panel suggested the legislature could clarify the law on mental incapacity after it granted a new trial to a man changed with second-degree rape of an intoxicated woman.

Carolina Public Press reported this week that fewer than 25 percent of defendants charged with sexual assault are convicted and that more than one-third of counties had no convictions in 4 1/2 years.

Beasley said the legislation would help with convictions.

“Some folks don’t feel comfortable sharing their stories, “ he said. “We want to provide a space where, if they go to law enforcement, they will be heard and there will be remedies. One of the things we want to do in this bill is make sure everyone knows what the lay of the land is legally.”

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Lynn Bonner has worked at The News & Observer since 1994, and has written about the state legislature and politics since 1999. Contact her at lbonner@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4821.
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