MCASA Applauds Bill Modernizing Maryland’s Rape Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. Updated February 1, 2017 

MCASA Applauds Bill
Modernizing Maryland’s Rape Law
Sexual Assault Victims Will Not Have to Physically Resist

Silver Spring, Md., September 22, 2016; Updated February 1, 2017 — Sexual assault victims would never be required to physically resist a rapist under legislation being proposed for Maryland’s 2017 legislative session.  Maryland’s current sexual assault statutes require prosecutors to prove that a rapist used “force” or “threat of force” in many cases.  Historically, proof of force depended on whether a rape victim fought back and physically resisted an attack.  Most states abandoned these antiquated standards years ago, eliminating requirements that victims use “utmost resistance” through court decisions or legislative action.  In Maryland progress has been slower.

“It is past time to change this law,” said Lisae C. Jordan, Executive Director & Counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “Victims should not be expected to physically fight off a rapist and our criminal law should recognize that no means no.”  Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery), Vice-Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has reintroduced legislation to clarify that evidence that a victim physically resisted is not required to prove sexual assault.  She noted that many women and men are taught not to resist in order to protect their own safety.  “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.”

A 2010 court decision by Maryland’s Court of Appeals clarified that “force” does not require physical violence.  The Mayers case upheld a sexual assault conviction where the victim repeatedly said “no,” pushed the defendant’s hands away, and was “horribly scared” of being forced to perform other sexual acts or getting a sexually transmitted infection.  The courts have not upheld a rape conviction based on force where a victim said no, but did not physically resist.

That may be because no one is arrested in these cases.  A recent BuzzFeed article reporting on a high percentage of unfounded sexual assault cases noted that some officers declined to charge cases based on Maryland’s law regarding physical resistance.  One officer’s report noted that the victim “did not offer any physical resistance to the alleged assault as required by MD case law;” another stated, “there was not enough evidence of a struggle or enough resistance to indicate a rape occurred.”  The proposed legislation will eliminate this confusion and bring Maryland’s sexual assault law into the modern era.  The Senate version of the bill, SB217, is slated for a hearing in the Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday, February 8th, 2017 and the House version of the bill, HB429, is slated for a hearing in the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, February 21st, 2017.

MCASA supports legislation that promotes justice for survivors of sexual violence, accountability for offenders, and protection for the general public.  A description of MCASA’s legislative work can be found at this link: http://www.mcasa.org/law-public-policy.

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