Is There a Time Limit on Rape?

If a woman consents to having sex with a man but during intercourse says no, and the man continues, is it rape?

High courts of several states have ruled that a woman may withdraw her consent at any time and a man must stop. If he continues, he is committing rape. Illinois recently became the first state to pass legislation giving a woman the right to change her mind. But, in some states, including Maryland, a woman who has changed her mind, after sexual intercourse has begun, cannot accuse the man of committing the crime of rape.

Victim’s rights advocates argue that a woman must have the right to change her mind. They say that without such a right, the woman has no recourse if she feels pain or discovers the man isn’t wearing a condom or is HIV positive.

A California Supreme Court Justice raised the issue of time in her dissent to the Court’s ruling acknowledging a woman’s right to withdraw consent. Justice Janice Brown asked how long a man has to stop. “Ten seconds? Thirty? A minute?” The executive director of the National Center for Men argued that men don’t always have “complete control over our ability to stop.” He said that “to equate that with brutal, violent rape weakens the whole concept of rape.” The group has created a “consensual sex contract” to be signed before intercourse.

Maryland’s high court will examine whether a man can be charged with rape if a woman withdraws her consent after a state appellate court relied on the English common-law idea of “the initial de-flowering of the woman as the real harm,” to determine that a rape did not occur.

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