Lawmakers go after roofies, untested rape kits
Posted March 20, 2019 7:00 p.m. EDT
Updated March 20, 2019 7:28 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Sex assaults were attacked on two fronts at the legislature Wednesday.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would make it a felony to slip a drug into someone's drink and spells out in state law that a drugged person cannot consent to sex. A Senate committee also agreed to set aside money to process thousands of untested rape kits in law enforcement evidence lockers statewide.
"If North Carolina can be at the forefront of protecting our children, of protecting our loved ones, we want to do that," said Rep. Chaz Beasley, D-Mecklenburg, one of the primary sponsors of House Bill 393.
The legislation was prompted by an incident at a Charlotte bar last May involving Leah McGuirk, who said someone slipped something into her drink, causing her to pass out within 20 minutes and later have a seizure.
She was with friends, who took her home, so she was was never assaulted by whoever drugged her. But when she tried to file a police report later, she found there was no law to address the situation.
"It was a very surreal experience knowing I had been victimized but that there wasn't a law in place to support me or even to define what happened to me," McGuirk said Wednesday at a news conference to discuss the bill.
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Existing state law deals only with adulterated food, including Halloween candy. Beasley said his proposal, which is backed by more than two dozen Democratic and Republican lawmakers, would close that loophole.
Monika Johnson-Hostler, executive director for the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said she has led sex assault prevention and awareness efforts on college campuses for years not knowing that there was no state law to address date rape drugs, often called "roofies," which she noted have been around since the 1990s.
The legislation also would clarify that someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs is considered mentally incapacitated and therefore cannot give sexual consent, whether they took the substance deliberately or unknowingly.
"As a state, we need to have our laws updated so that they reflect modern crimes like drug-facilitated sexual assault or being drugged without assault afterwards," McGuirk said.
The bill also calls for modernizing North Carolina's criminal code by removing the word "forcible" from the official names of the crimes rape, sexual assault and sex offense.
"This would call rape rape," Beasley said. "Force is still an element of all of these [crimes], but it just calls it something that is more responsive of today's realities."
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Standing Up for Rape Victims Act of 2019, which would set aside $6 million over the next two years to pay for DNA testing on thousands of rape kits statewide.
An audit by the State Crime Lab determined last year that more than 15,000 rape kits had never been tested. That number has been whittled down somewhat since then, but the state funding would pay to send the rest to independent labs for testing and to enter the results in criminal databases for comparison in other crimes.
"There are serial rapists out there. We need to know who they are," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, one of the bill sponsors. "If they're incarcerated, then that's great. If not, we need to track them down. We need to find them, and we need to make sure they go to trial."
The bill, which also includes $800,000 in recurring funds to hire six technicians at the State Crime Lab to keep up with evidence testing, will likely go to the full Senate next week.