Thanks to longstanding legal loopholes, North Carolina was the only state in the U.S. where it was not considered a crime to sexually assault someone who revoked their initial consent or to assault an intoxicated person who willingly drank alcohol.
That’s set to change now that the state’s General Assembly unanimously voted Thursday to pass a bill reforming sexual assault laws.
State lawmakers in North Carolina’s Republican-controlled House and Senate passed Senate Bill 199, which makes those types of assaults illegal.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill into law within 10 days.
Language in the bill closes a legal loophole that was formed in 1979 when the state’s Supreme Court ruled that a man could not be guilty of rape if the woman consented before penetration ― even if she later changed her mind.
It also updates another “incapacitation” loophole, set in a 2008 Court of Appeals ruling, which made it legal for a person to have sex without consent if it was with an intoxicated person who voluntarily drank.
SB 199 also includes gender-neutral language, unlike precedents set by the previous court rulings.
State Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Democrat who tried to pass similar bills several times over the past five years, thanked survivors of sexual assault for speaking to him about their experiences.
“Your stories made this happen. We heard you and we took action,” he said in a statement shared on Twitter. “It took way too long, but we got here.
North Carolina’s antiquated sexual assault laws and the effects they have had on assault victims were examined in an investigative collaboration between the Carolina Public Press and 11 news organizations statewide.
Their reporting, published earlier this year, revealed that fewer than 1 in 4 people suspected of sexual assault in the state were convicted, and it highlighted the fact that there were no laws that explicitly banned drugging people’s drinks, which SB 199 now prohibits.
The bill doesn’t just correct loopholes. It also strengthens laws for victims of child sexual assault by requiring anyone over the age of 18 to report such abuse, expanding the statute of limitations for abuse against children and requiring school staff to take child sexual abuse and sex trafficking training.
“By strengthening our sexual assault and child protection laws, we will ensure that survivors get the access to justice they deserve and our kids are kept safer than ever before,” state Rep. Chaz Beasley (D), who wrote parts of the bill, said in a statement.
Leah McGuirk, who began advocating for reform one year after her drink had been spiked, told the Carolina Public Press that she was still concerned for victims who have not yet spoken out.
“There is a part of me that’s sad because I know there’s so many victims who won’t be able to take the people who preyed upon them to court,” McGuirk told the news outlet. “These laws are built on the backs of victims who won’t get their day in court.”
However, she told NBC News that the bill will “help so many different victims .... It’s a protection that was missing for so long.”