A Maryland lawmaker will propose a change to the state's rape law in order to clarify a key point: To seek justice, victims do not have to show they fought back against their attackers. In announcing her plan, Kathleen M. Dumais, a member of the state legislature, cited a recent BuzzFeed News investigation that showed one of the state's largest police departments drops many rape accusations without fully investigating them — in part because police officers decided the accuser did not fight back hard enough.
"The idea is that you're not going to have to prove physical resistance," Dumais said in an interview Thursday.
Dumais proposed a bill along these lines back in 2005, but it fizzled out in committee. More recently, however, she said lawmakers in the state's House Judiciary Committee, of which she is vice chair, have expressed support for the change.
Dumais said that in the years since that first bill died, it stayed "in the back of my mind." Then last year, she read Missoula, a book by Jon Krakauer that investigated law enforcement's response to rape allegations in the Montana town. Then when BuzzFeed News' investigation came out this month, she decided that "this would be a good time to highlight a question about our current statute, and lets see if we can get it fixed."
BuzzFeed News found that the Baltimore County Police Department often labeled rape allegations as "unfounded" after little to no detective work. In some cases, police cited Maryland's rape law as the reason why they shut the case down. In one, for example, the officer wrote that the victim “did not offer any physical resistance to the alleged assault as required by MD case law.”
Maryland's rape law requires not just a lack of consent but also "force or the threat of force." The state Court of Appeals wrote in 2010, however, that there does not need to be additional physical violence to prove force.
The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault expressed support for Dumais' bill Thursday. "It is past time to change this law," Executive Director Lisae Jordan said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that our rape law places women in the position of choosing between physically resisting and getting hurt, or not resisting and losing
access to justice.”
Two state lawmakers from Baltimore County have already announced support for changing the law.
Maryland's legislature will meet at the start of next year.
Alex Campbell is the deputy UK investigations editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. His secure PGP fingerprint is C99D 2577 74B1 8DF0 6E90 3CD7 DFF4 C0F2 2492
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Katie Baker is an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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