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In NC, Saying "Yes" To SEX Means More Than You Think

"At what point does a woman not have control over her own body?"

Sex

That was the question posed by my man friend as we discussed the Withdrawal Consent law that's active, alive, and well in North Carolina.

Under North Carolina law, women can't legitimately retract a "yes" to sex once that demonstration has consensually started, on account of an "escape clause" maintained by the state's Supreme Court. A man can't be liable of assault if the woman initially assented to sex — regardless of whether she later requests that he stop. As my friend (we'll call him "Elijah") explained this to me, I couldn't help but feel completely confused and downright angry. The only thought that came to mind was, "What does a woman have if not the right to change her mind?"

On the evening of May 16, 1977, Beverly Hester was assaulted.

But the North Carolina Supreme Court declared that under the law, it wasn't rape if Hester told the man to stop after – not before – sex began.

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Hester testified in court that the man who assaulted her, Donnie Leon Way, threatened to beat her if she didn't have sex with him. According to a summary included in the N.C. Supreme Court Decision, State v. Way, Hester said Way asked her out on a date. They went with another couple to a friend's apartment, and Way asked Hester to go upstairs "because he had something to show her."

She went with him to a bedroom upstairs. He shut the door. Then he tried to take off her pants. She said, "No." But Way wouldn't stop.

Let's pause here. Have you ever been in a situation similar to this? I have.

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Interestingly enough, with Elijah. We didn't start off platonic. We were dating pretty often prior to "the incident".

We were spending some time together one evening when the sexual energy started flowing. You know, the looks started being thrown, he intently sits with his entire body opened in your direction, the focused and silent glances intensify. We begin with warm and passionate hugs, which lead to even more passionate kissing. Fast forward and tops are off, both his and mine. Fast forward some more, he gains his composure and suggests we stop since we aren't going to sex. I agree and we take a snooze. Later, I am awakened by his kiss, which is just as passionate as before. We continue as if we never stopped, except this time he finds his way on top of me, hands groping and grabbing at my body. All consented until he begins to unbuckle my pants and reach into my underwear.

In between kisses, I'm murmuring "no" and disapproval. He continues as he slides his hand onto and into me. To be very honest, I was extremely puzzled. I didn't want to go that far but I enjoyed the sensation. What I didn't enjoy was not being listened to. He continued without regard for my disapproval as he proceeded to pull my pants down. I am scared now. "Elijah wait. Elijah WAIT. Elijah wait."

He doesn't hear me. I've become invisible. He doesn't see me. So much so, I wonder to myself, Is this real? Is this really happening right now?

He keeps his boxers on and climaxes. Girl, when I tell you I was CONFRUSED *insert ratchet country accent* (that's not a typo...I was that confused you hear me?!)

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I lay there, my back to Elijah, completely in disbelief. At that moment, all I can hear is the barrage of self-blame and thoughts of, Why didn't leave early like you said you were? Why did you even let him carry you to the bed, you fool? All the thoughts that make you feel like crap after something already crappy happens to you. I gather my emotions enough to ask myself, What are you gonna do now? I decide on a plan to go to the bathroom, gather my top, and leave. I come out of the bathroom and start looking for my top and he asks, "What are you looking for?"

Learning about this law after my experience really made me reflect on two things I'll be adopting aggressively in my own sexual wellness journey and want to share with you. Here they are:

Set clear boundaries for guys.

Expressing unapologetically what IS and ISN'T on the table. Yes, you can take my top off. We can make out. You can suck on my breasts. You can't take my pants off. You can't take my underwear off. You can't touch my lady parts underneath or on top of my clothes. This may sound extra af, but the truth of the matter remains that we have COMPLETE agency over our bodies.

Our bodies are our very own personal universe, we set the rules of engagement.

Not making it clear who's in charge of your body only allows men to proceed as if they are entitled to access you may not feel comfortable giving.

Discuss what our beliefs are about sexual assault BEFORE getting physically involved.

Sexual alignment requires straightforwardness that we find "too much" or "extra" sometimes. It's a legit approach that isn't presently expected of us since deep conversation isn't seen as essential before physically connecting with someone.

Sexual compatibility isn't simply about the frequency and style of sex. It implies knowing your hard and soft cutoff points when sexual energy is building. Sis, it's okay to ask any and all of the following questions:

  • "What do you consider sexual assault?"
  • "How okay are you with dry humping and not having sex?"
  • "How much dry humping or foreplay can you handle before you're frustrated?"
  • "How do you handle sexual frustration?"
  • "What makes you feel sexually rejected?"

As women, we are well aware that for us sex starts in the mind. Men know this also, no matter how much some may plead ignorance. It serves us to practice exploring these questions unapologetically with straightforwardness.

We have the power and responsibility to represent our best interest in sexual situations. Laws like Withdrawal Consent illustrate how clearly we can't depend on men, the government, or public officials to look out.

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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