When rape is a matter of timing


“A Time Limit on Rape,” a news story by Jeninne Lee-St. John in Time magazine, opens with this question: If a woman consents to sex with a man but then withdraws that consent during the sex act itself, can he still be convicted of rape and sentenced to prison if, essentially, he doesn’t stop fast enough?

“The answer depends on where you live,” Lee-St. John writes in answer to her own question. In seven states, she writes, courts “have ruled that a woman may withdraw her consent at any time and if a man doesn’t stop he is committing rape.”

My home state of state of Illinois is the first to pass legislation giving a woman that “protection.” Gee, I feel so much safer now. I mean, there’s a law!


Feminists and “victim advocates” argue that without being able to change her mind and say no during sexual intercourse itself, “there is no recourse for a woman who begins to feel pain or realizes her partner isn’t wearing a condom or has HIV,” writes Lee-St. John. No recourse? Now, I’m not sure how they think a woman is going to suddenly get that latter piece of information only after sex has begun. But are these feminists really saying that all men are such incredible brutes they wouldn’t stop, if they found their partner was uncomfortable for some reason, without the threat of prison? Just what kind of men are these feminists involved with?

But more likely is that this is what many in the sisterhood want to think of men because it fits with the “man-bad, woman-good” theory of life they consistently project to the world.

In a complicated Maryland case that may soon make it to the state’s highest court, a young man and woman both testified that she told him to stop during the sex act and that he did so within seconds, and without completion. What preceded those agreed-upon events is murky; what matters is that the jury asked the judge during deliberations, “Is it rape if a female changed her mind during the sex to which she consented and the man continued … .” The judge said it was for them to decide. (The defendant, who appealed that conviction to the state’s Supreme Court, currently is serving a 5-year prison sentence for rape.)

But the Maryland appellate court has essentially said no, once intercourse has begun with a woman’s consent, it’s too late to call it rape and put him in prison if he doesn’t stop immediately. So now feminists are “inflamed,” according to Lee St.-John. They say they will push to change the law if the high court doesn’t strike down the appellate court ruling.


To establish that a woman can fully and even enthusiastically agree to sexual intercourse and then in the middle of it, if she chooses differently, he must stop “immediately” or he goes to prison, does women no favors.

For one thing, as Lee-St. John notes, what qualifies as “immediately”? Can we really count on a law to be fully “protective” in the moment, anyway? The seduction game can be incredibly, even wonderfully, daring, complicated and nuanced. This shouldn’t be a news flash. So, should there be some officially sanctioned signal, or perhaps a notarized paper, she has on hand to show, “I really mean it! You’ve got two seconds?”

Talk about creating a tangled web.

Sadly, what the feminists are advocating here degrades the real crime of rape. And, it infantilizes women. At some point — gasp — we are responsible for the choices we make, and for managing the consequences of the choices we make. That’s what’s empowering. We women are grown-ups, aren’t we?

I’m not sure. There used to be some generally accepted rules of engagement between civilized men and women. No, they weren’t always followed, but they provided something of a known playing field.

Now we just involve the courts when a woman’s sensibilities are offended because, like very young children, we can’t possibly be expected to manage those offended sensibilities ourselves.

And that’s what’s considered “progress” for women.

(Betsy Hart is the author of the “It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It.” E-mail her at sendtohart(at)comcast.net.)


  1. Michela Colosimo

    The woman to whom I refer above was in the process of divorcing her abusive husband. He lured her back with loving words and gestures, then assaulted her. It was clear that the husband wanted to punish her for filing for divorce.

  2. Carol Wolf

    Is it really that difficult to tell the difference between love-making and assault and battery? If one asks for and consents to love-making, and receives instead assault and battery, obviously one’s original consent is cancelled. When a woman says “stop,” at that point, she is not saying “stop” to love-making. She is saying STOP HURTING ME. How can she be refused recourse to the courts if she is assaulted when she expected the most intimate of caresses? If a man bent on love-making finds that he is hurting his partner, of course he must stop, because at that point he is not making love anymore. Men’s safety before the courts against false accusation is that she would have to prove that she was harmed, but blood, tears (not tears that she cried, but torn membrane) and scrapes would testify for her. (Without such evidence, would any D.A. file this case?) To say that according to law, once consent is obtained, what happens afterwards is love-making, and never rape, is foolish.

  3. Wobba

    I get your point, Michaela, but I have a question. Why was your friend married to this man who apparently had no respect for or understanding of her wishes? Why did she consent to sex with him at all if he was that kind of person?

    Was she trapped in some kind of ongoing abusive relationship where she felt she had no choice?

    If not, then it sounds like the husband decided to try something new in the bedroom without considering his wife’s desires or asking her. Maybe he thought she’d like it and just made a bad decision, but regardless he wasn’t cognizant of or respectful toward her sexual wishes. That’s being a bad lover and a jerk. She should have (and apparently has) dumped him. But being a bad lover and a jerk is not the same as being a rapist. It is not a crime.

    If she was in an abusive relationship, then it would seem the real crime is ongoing spousal abuse, which may or may not have included any form of rape. It hardly seems necessary to invent new ones which seem tailor made to (pardon the expression) screw over decent men.

  4. Michela Colosimo

    Betsy Hart never misses an opportunity to bash “feminists.” Isn’t she also a woman? So, why is she bashing other women? Don’t men do a good enough job themselves, without her help? As for changing one’s mind during intercourse, I knew a woman who said yes to intercourse with her soon to be ex-husband. However, after she consented, he proceeded to forcefully violate her rectally, which she had not agreeed to. Does anyone get my point?

  5. Teleri

    This nonsense is definitely taking attention away from the real crime of rape. That would be non-consensual sex, and is normally about power and brutality.

    You know, if there are idiotic wimp-women out there who just can’t figure out how to live life without holding the government (in the form of courts, etc) over the heads of their unfortunate friends and acquaintances, too bad for them. This society has a lot of wimpy jerks of both sexes doing this (we are THE most litigious society on earth) which causes glee in lawfirms, and consternation everywhere else.

    If I say yes & then want the guy to stop, I feel pretty confidant with my ability to, say, kick him out of bed if he won’t. Been there, done that. That’s how to handle it. And don’t blame the poor guy for believing you when you agreed. Take some responsibility.

  6. Kent Shaw


    Wobba wrote: “It’s really not that hard. I should know.”


    Sounds like the story of my life. (smirk)… sorry, that was in poor taste and totally uncalled for.


    Wobba also wrote: “Men: don’t run about trying to have sex with women you don’t know and don’t have an emotionally mature relationship with. You’ll never have to worry about a bogus rape charge if you’re sleeping with a woman who loves you and is emotionally mature. Also, be able to stop in the unlikely event that something goes wrong.”


    And to that I say, very well put.


  7. Wobba

    Hey, here’s an idea. Stop having sex with immature people who can’t control their impulses, don’t understand their bodies and can’t make up their minds.

    Men: don’t run about trying to have sex with women you don’t know and don’t have an emotionally mature relationship with. You’ll never have to worry about a bogus rape charge if you’re sleeping with a woman who loves you and is emotionally mature. Also, be able to stop in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. It’s really not that hard. I should know.

    Women: don’t have sex with men who are only interested in having sex with you. And don’t have sex at all if you aren’t sure you want to. Don’t let a guy (especially one you don’t know that well) talk you into anything you’re unsure of. Then you won’t find yourself changing your mind mid-coitus.

    But no, that requires maturity, forethought and (horrors!) restraint from both parties, so it will never happen. Besides, we all know all men are potential rapists who would if they could. We need a good excuse to put more of them in prison.

  8. Joe Lawrence

    Oh, a note to Ric Carter:

    Inflatable sex partners withhold or withdraw consent….by simply deflating.