Did you know that up until yesterday, sexual assault victims in Maryland had to prove that they tried to fight their rapist before being able to bring charges? Yeah, really. Thanks to an investigation by BuzzFeed News last year about how the state defined rape, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed the “No Means No” bill yesterday. Previously, Maryland had a little clause in their rape laws that said rape occurred when there was “force, or threat of force,” in addition to lack of consent. So police officers would often turn a victim away if they didn’t say they had put up a fight, forgetting that the lack of consent alone should constitutes force.
There was a case, for example, in which a woman went to report a rape where the attacker said, “if you scream, I’ll kill you. “But they called her cases “unfounded” because she didn’t “push, kick, or use any other force.” To put it simply, lack of consent was never enough to support a rape claim. Thankfully, that’s all over now. Lisae Jordan, the director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault told BuzzFeed, “Sexual assault survivors will no longer be forced to choose between keeping safe or having access to justice.”
In addition to not having to prove that they fought back, there are other revisions to the law included in the bill. Sex crimes detectives will now interview both the suspect and victim and police officers won’t be able to decide whether or not a rape claim is unfounded. In 2014 in Baltimore County, because of the previous law, 34 percent of rape accusations were called “unfounded,” even thought he national average was 7 percent. The state’s attorney’s office will now decide whether or not an accusation is valid or not.
In addition to listening to more victims, this revision means women won’t have to put themselves in any more danger than they already are when they’re being raped. If a woman knew that she would have to “fight back” to have a police officer listen to her accusation later, she could risk more violence or dying.
Hogan also signed an anti-sex trafficking bill and a bill that would keep rape kits for up to 20 years (though hopefully it doesn’t take that long to test them). The “No Means No” bill is a good step forward, but that it took this long shows just how much work states have to do when it comes to supporting the victim and prosecuting rape effectively.