The governor of North Carolina signed a bill into law on Thursday that finally closed a long-standing legal loophole that made certain types of nonconsensual sex ― also known as rape ― legal.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed Senate Bill 199, a sweeping sexual assault reform bill that strengthens protections for children and survivors of sexual assault. North Carolina’s Republican-controlled House and Senate unanimously voted to pass the bill last week.
“For too long, North Carolina has not protected sexual abuse victims the same ways other states have, and this law closes that consent loophole,” Cooper said in a statement after the bill signing. “This bipartisan legislation goes a long way to protect all victims of sexual assault, especially children, and will help more people seek justice against abusers.”
The law is scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 1.
Before this law, 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.
The new law 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.
Loopholes aside, the law signed Thursday also further protects children and victims of childhood sexual abuse. Any person over the age of 18 who suspects or witnesses such abuses is now required to report it and all school staff in North Carolina are required to take training on child sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
North Carolina faced scrutiny over its antiquated sexual assault laws this year after the Carolina Public Press and 11 other news organizations across the state published their wide-scale investigative collaboration into the matter.
The 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, something the new law prohibits.