The Maryland governor signed a bill yesterday that will no longer require survivors of sexual assault in the state to prove that they fought back against their assailant in order to press charges. The “no means no” bill was one of several bills Governor Larry Hogan signed yesterday aimed at improving the prosecution of sex crimes in the state, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Previously, rape survivors in the state needed to provide evidence that they physically resisted during an attack, or their case could be labeled “unfounded” and would not advance to prosecution, the Baltimore Sun reports. The new law, SB0217, removes the requirement of physical resistance to prove that a rape occurred.
Data from 2014 showed that about 14 percent of sexual assault cases in Maryland were deemed unfounded that year, over twice the national average, according to a previous Baltimore Sun report. In Baltimore County, that number was 32 percent.
In February 2017, after an independent review of the county’s “unfounded” rape cases, officials announced that none of the 124 cases could be prosecuted under the law that defined rape as only occurring by “force or threat of force,” but that 30-40 percent could be prosecuted if the law was changed to include all nonconsensual sex, according to the Sun.
The U.S. Justice Department defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Additionally, in 2012, the definition of “forcible rape” was changed in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report Summary Reporting System from “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will”—a definition established in 1927—to any sexual penetration, of any person regardless of gender, “without the consent of the victim.”
In addition to the “no means no” bill, Hogan also signed bills forbidding the destruction of rape kits for at least 20 years, removing language from the law that created a distinction between vaginal rape and other forms of sexual assault, and expanding the definition of sexual abuse to include victims of child sex trafficking.
“Making Maryland safer begins with making sure that we have a criminal justice system that holds offenders accountable for their actions and the harm they cause, while also supporting victims and the community in the process of healing,” Hogan said in a statement highlighting the sex trafficking bill as well as the other bills signed yesterday.
“For far too long in Maryland, we’ve been promoting a sort of rape culture,” said Baltimore State Marilyn Mosby, according to The Baltimore Sun, also saying that the signing of SB0217 is “a major victory for all victims of sexual assault.”
Previous attempts to pass similar “no means no” provisions in Maryland failed in 2004 and 2005, the Sun reported. However, in 2010, Maryland’s highest appeals court ruled in a sexual assault case saying that the victim in the case, who said “no” and attempted to push her attacker away, did not have to prove that the attacker used physical harm or force to commit the nonconsensual act. The newly signed provision ensures that law enforcement working on sexual assault cases are aware that force and resistance are not required to constitute rape.