In October 2018, Carolina Public Press, a nonprofit news outlet, took a look at sexual assault conviction rates in North Carolina. What they found were outdated, ineffective laws that blurred the lines of consent and made it harder for offenders to be convicted.

“We looked at court data – a 4½-year data set – and analyzed it for the first time in North Carolina,” said Angie Newsome, founder and executive director of Carolina Public Press.

Her team found that fewer than one in four sexual assault defendants were convicted in the period they investigated, and fewer than a third of North Carolina’s 100 counties had sexual assault convictions. The state was the only one in the nation where a person could not revoke consent during a sexual encounter. The state’s law also determined that if a person was assaulted after drinking or doing drugs, it was not a crime.

“Those were the two aspects that led to the lack of convictions,” said Newsome.

Three days after the publication of the story, a North Carolina State House representative introduced legislation to fix the law. The reforms were approved in November of 2019. It was an outcome most journalists only dream of.

“This kind of impact is like lightning striking twice in the same spot,” said Newsome.

 

Gov. Roy Cooper signs a package of reforms to NC sexual assault laws Thursday afternoon, during a visit to a domestic violence shelter in Greensboro, as supporters of the legislation look on. Kate Martin / Carolina Public Press