“No” means nothing once sex has started

A terrifying new ruling from a Maryland appellate court.

Topics: Broadsheet, Love and Sex,

Thanks, I guess, to Jessica at Feministing for bringing this scary piece of news to our attention: A Maryland appellate court yesterday ruled that the state’s rape law is clear on the fact that no doesn’t mean no if it comes in the midst of consensual sex.

The three-judge panel yesterday tossed out a rape conviction on the grounds that when the jury on the case asked the judge to clarify whether a woman could legally withdraw her consent after the start of sex, the judge should have informed them that she could not. According to this panel, Maryland law is not ambiguous on this point.

Consider for a moment what this means: that once intercourse has started, a woman has no legal right to stop it. Not if it hurts, not if it feels wrong, not if something starts going badly. As soon as you say yes and begin the act, your freedom and ability to make and act on your own decisions simply evaporate.



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And there are so many other questions. If this “she didn’t say no until after we started” defense actually holds water, then what, precisely, constitutes saying “no”? What if the tenor of the encounter changes as soon as you say “yes”? Does that count as consensual? What if there is a hand over your mouth when sex begins? Is the sex consensual if you’re unconscious, or have been drugged and wake up or come out of it in the middle of the act?

It’s scary, it’s crazy, it’s wrong. And this sucks, but if this is what it comes down to, then ladies, check your state laws. And think not just twice but three and four and five times before you agree to shag someone. It shouldn’t have to be this way. But apparently, at least in Maryland, it is.

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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