Maryland Changed Its Legal Definition Of Rape

by Kelly Tunney
Victor Moriyama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Although Maryland legislatures last week weren't able to overturn an outdated law that required rape victims to share custody with their rapist who did not receive a conviction, they did manage to pass through some positive legislation before the end of the 2017 Assembly session. On Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law a bill that states rape victims don't need to prove they used force to resist their attackers for it to constitute as rape.

Basically, the law changes the state's legal definition of rape. Before, it declared that if you didn't fight back, the action wasn't technically rape. In Maryland, an assault was classified as rape if a sexual act was not consensual and also included force or the threat of force. Therefore, the victim would have had to proved that the assailant had used or threatened force during the act. It is being referred to as the "No Means No" Law, which explains that saying "no" is enough to consider an act nonconsensual.

Back in September, BuzzFeed News launched an investigation into how some Baltimore police departments classify some rape reports as "unfounded," without actually looking into them. According to BuzzFeed News, the FBI defines "unfounded" rape and sexual assault reports as those that are "false or baseless.

You can start to see how many rape reports in Baltimore were considered unfounded — according to BuzzFeed News, it was 34 percent between 2009 and 2014 — when you consider that Maryland law stated the victim had to prove that he or she used force to resist the attacker. Before, if there was no evidence of resistance, the case was pretty much able to be automatically dismissed.

According to The Washington Post, the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault had audited three years of sexual assault cases that were stalled in Baltimore County and found that 42 of 124 cases were discharged by lack of evidence demonstrating physical resistance. Now that the law is revised to lift the burden of physical resistance evidence from the victim, we can only hope that the number of cases investigated will be higher.

The "No Means No" bill was one of 200 Gov. Logan signed on Tuesday, which also included a bill to keep rape kits for 20 years and a bill that includes sex trafficking as sexual abuse.

This bill and others are a great step forward in protecting the rights of sexual assault victims. Hopefully Maryland can keep the momentum going and push for more in next year's Assembly session.