Victims of rape and other sexual assaults in Maryland are no longer required to prove they physically resisted their assailants under a new law.
Senate Bill 0217 changes the state’s outdated legal definition of rape, clarifying that a victim doesn’t need to fight the perpetrator to establish that a sexual crime was committed. Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery County) and Senator Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) sponsored the bill that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed into law on Tuesday.
“This is a sea change for sexual assault survivors in Maryland,” said Lisae C. Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “It is a fundamental improvement in how the law responds and respects women who were assaulted. In essence, it means that no means no.”
Maryland’s current sexual assault statutes had typically required prosecutors to establish that a rapist used “force” or “threat of force,” Jordan explained. In many cases, she said, police and prosecutors relied on evidence that a victim had fought back in order to prove that force was used.
“We had survivors who said “no,” who said “please stop,’” she said. “Law enforcement would ask them: ‘Did you hit, did you kick, did you push back?’ If the survivor said ‘no,’ they would tell them under Maryland law, that’s not considered a crime.”
One of the reasons the bill was introduced this year, Jordan said, was because of the results of an independent review on how allegations of sexual assault were handled in Baltimore county, which was released in February.
Jordan and former Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Howe reviewed all rape cases that were reported in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and classified as “unfounded,” meaning a crime had not occurred. Over a third of “unfounded” cases involved incidents in which the victim did not physically resist the assailant, she said.
Recent media attention on the issue, including a Buzzfeed investigation into “unfounded” rapes in Maryland, was also a significant factor, Jordan said.
She said law was confusing to victims who were taught about consent in high school and college, and told that no means no.
“This brings our law in line with women’s expectations, with society’s expectations and the way we should treat everyone regarding sexual violence,” she said.
Kelley, the bill’s co-sponsor, told CNN that Maryland needed to make the change to bring the state up to date with the rest of the country. She noted that “survivors increase their chances of being maimed or killed if trying to physically resist the rape.”
The law comes into effect in October.
Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and issues related to women’s health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.
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