No means no at any time

Our view: A broader view of rape is appropriate

April 18, 2008

In broadening the legal definition of rape, Maryland's highest court has rightly expanded women's rights, recognizing the importance of their being able to assert control at times of particular vulnerability. The seven judges may have relied on different legal reasoning, but they were unanimous in concluding that a woman can change her mind and withdraw consent during sexual intercourse - and that a man has to honor her decision. Making that more clear in the law is a welcome advance that should help juries as they weigh the facts in individual cases.

Rape generally involves physical or psychological power and violence. It's usually not about sex, but one person dominating another or provoking fear. But physical relationships between men and women can get complicated, and what may start out as an act of intimacy can become an act of terror. If that happens - or other circumstances intervene - a woman should be able to reverse course and insist that the man does as well. His failure to heed her change of heart leaves him open to a rape charge.

The court's decision sends the case of Maouloud Baby back to trial. In 2004, Mr. Baby was convicted of first-degree rape and other offenses in Montgomery County after a woman changed her mind about sex as intercourse began. His five-second or so delay in complying with her newly voiced "no" was found to be not fast enough. Mr. Baby may or may not fare better with another jury. Determining whether a man acted appropriately may often be a difficult call, requiring prosecutors, judges and juries to assess each case carefully and use common sense. But at least now a woman's right to say no at any time during sex has legal force that can set some boundaries.

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