Major Sexual Assault Reforms Enacted, but Rape Survivor Bill Fails Again

Apr 11th, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Major Sexual Assault Reforms Enacted,

but Rape Survivor Bill Fails Again

All Male Conference Committee Decides Fate of Rape Bill

Silver Spring, Md., April 11, 2017 — The Maryland General Assembly has enacted a package of bills creating wholescale reforms to the state’s sexual assault laws. Over a half-a-dozen bills passed the legislative session that ended last night at midnight. Among these are bills to make fundamental changes to the definition of rape, to increase funding for services, and to give child sexual abuse survivors a longer time to sue in court. However, despite the spotlight on sexual assault issues, legislation to allow courts to terminate the parental rights of rapists when a child is conceived through rape failed again. One of the most important successful bills makes it clear that a victim of rape never has to physically resist an assailant.  Maryland’s current sexual assault statutes require prosecutors to prove that a rapist used “force” or “threat of force” in many cases. Historically and in Maryland’s jury instructions, proof of force depended on whether a rape victim fought back and physically resisted an attack. The “No Means No” law, sponsored by Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery County) and Senator Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), applies to all sex crimes prosecutions. It means that rape can be prosecuted when a survivor said “no” but did not push, kick, or physically fight off an attacker.  Delegate Dumais explained, “as a result of this law, sexual assault survivors will no longer be in the position of choosing between physically resisting and getting hurt, or not resisting and losing access to justice.” The Sexual Assault Victims Resources Act of 2017, sponsored by Senator Ed Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore County) and Delegate Aruna Miller (D-Montgomery County), also passed. This bill creates dedicated funding for rape crisis centers. Maryland’s rape crisis centers have received virtually flat support from the State for over 15 years. Changes in Washington have raised concerns about continued federal funding and this bill helps ensure continued services for sexual assault survivors of all ages. The Resources Act also establishes a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee chaired by the Attorney General. This committee will address availability of sexual assault forensic exams, testing of rape kits, and the fiscal issues involved.  Maryland has faced criticism for a system that makes it difficult for sexual assault survivors to obtain sexual assault forensic examinations and for failing to test kits when exams are performed.

 Despite years of advocacy, legislation to create a court process for sexual assault survivors to end the parental rights of rapists when the child was conceived through rape failed again.  Legislators delayed acting on the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act until it was too late to actually pass a bill.  An all-male conference committee was appointed to decide the fate of the legislation and did not meet until after 10pm.  Concerns are being expressed about the composition of the committee.  Delegate Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery County), incoming President of the Women’s Caucus, observed “it is inexcusable that no women were appointed to a conference committee addressing rape and pregnancy.”  The bi-partisan Women’s Caucus of Maryland Legislators strongly supported the legislation.  In addition to the Women’s Caucus, the bill had a huge range of support, including from both the Catholic Conference and Planned Parenthood.  In recent years Maryland has been ridiculed in the national media for its failure to address the issue of parental rights of rapists, and last year the Chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee was given the “crown for killing off legislation designed to help vulnerable women” by a Washington Post editorial for failing to pass this bill.

 Other sexual assault legislation enacted this session included:

  • Rape Kit Retention and Survivor Notification - requiring retention of sexual assault evidence kits for at least twenty years and giving survivors notice regarding kit retention and destruction.
  • Classification of Rape – changing references to sexual assaults involving penetration so all are referred to as “rape”.  Current law classified some sexual assaults as “sexual offenses” and resulted survivors being told that they were “not raped”.
  • HIV and HepC Testing for Rape Survivors – creating a process for emergency testing of suspects in rape cases so that victims can take advantage of nPEP medication to prevent HIV. Testing provisions were also expanded to cover testing for hepatitis C.
  • Child Sexual Abuse Definition ­– expanding the jurisdiction of child protective services to include more cases involving adults with authority over a child.
  • Human Trafficking – Education for Law Enforcement – requiring the Police Training Commission to provide training for law enforcement regarding responding to survivors of human sex and labor trafficking.
  • For more information about other bills, go to mcasa.org.
The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) is the lead advocacy group for sexual assault survivors in Annapolis.  MCASA credited the progress this session to strong lawmakers and to increased political activism by women’s groups.  “Changes in the political arena have created a sense of urgency,” said Lisae C Jordan, Executive Director and Counsel for MCASA.  “Many lawmakers wanted to make bold changes addressing sexual assault, and legislators that were reluctant to do so changed their mind when they realized that women are watching.”

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