Maryland rape victims no longer need to prove they physically fought back against their attackers, according to a new bill signed today by Gov. Larry Hogan that changes the state’s legal definition of rape.
The bill, which was proposed in response to a BuzzFeed News investigation, makes clear that an incident can be characterized as rape even if victims don’t use force to resist their assailants.
“Sexual assault survivors will no longer be forced to choose between keeping safe or having access to justice,” said Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “‘No’ will mean ‘no’ and the law will back them up.”
Last September, BuzzFeed News reported that one of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies, the Baltimore County Police Department, often labeled rape allegations as “unfounded” without doing basic detective work. One reason was Maryland’s rape law, which required not only a lack of consent on the part of the victim, but also “force or the threat of force” by the assailant.
Police interpreted that law to mean victims needed to fight back: “Saying no is not enough to support a rape charge,” a Baltimore County Police spokeswoman told BuzzFeed News.
In one case, a woman reported that a man forced her to have sex several times. She said she told him no repeatedly, and he told her, “If you scream, I will kill you.” She said he dragged her around and raped her on a gravel road. Yet police marked her case unfounded, writing that she did not try “to push, kick, or use any other force.”
More than a decade ago, Delegate Kathleen Dumais, a Democratic lawmaker from Montgomery County, proposed tweaking the law so that resistance would not be required. That bill sputtered out, but Dumais kept the idea in the “back of my mind,” she told BuzzFeed News. Then she read Jon Krakauer’s book Missoula, an investigation into how law enforcement handled rape cases in a Montana college town. After reading BuzzFeed News’ article, she decided she would try again. The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Delores Kelley of Baltimore County, sailed through the legislature.
State legislators also passed other legislation prompted by BuzzFeed News’ investigation. A bill that would force government agencies to be more transparent when handling public records requests is headed for the Governor’s desk.
Baltimore County has already revised a number of the policies detailed in the BuzzFeed News article. Sex crimes detectives will now interview both victims and suspects in every rape case. And police will no longer have the authority to label cases as unfounded. Prosecutors will make those decisions instead.
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