By Maria Trovato
On Oct. 1, dozens of laws went into effect for the state of Maryland. Among these, several new laws focus on redefining sexual crimes and mark incredible progress for advocates of sexual assault victims.
One new law states that evidence of physical resistance by the victim is no longer required to prove that a sexual attack took place. This new legislation ensures that for the first time in Maryland, no legally means no. Sexual assault victims have previously been discouraged from pressing charges on account of having no evidence of physical resistance and this new law seeks to change that.
Another law reclassifies coerced oral or anal sex as rape. Previously, these acts have only legally been classified as sexual offenses.
According to Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, it is about increasing “respect for the victim,” and not diminishing the severity of the trauma endured.
“These are rapists and they should be labeled as such,” she says.
Laws regarding the documentation of evidence of sexual assault have been changed as well. Hospitals and child advocacy centers are now required to give rape kits to the police within 30 days of the victim’s exam. The statute of limitations for holding evidence of sexual crimes has been expanded as well.
Evidence of sexual assault must now be kept by the police for a minimum of 20 years. Before this, rape kits were often destroyed or disposed of by the police after only a few months and what could have been pivotal information was lost. Often victims do not press charges immediately yet later decide to testify. With the evidence of the crime destroyed, this is not an option. This new law will put an end to this.
These laws demonstrate real progress for advocates of sexual assault victims. In fact, when similar bills were proposed in 2003 and 2004, they failed to pass. In 2017, these bills were passed by the General Assembly without issue.
The progress of these laws, however, is somewhat undercut by recent measures made by the Federal Department of Education. Last month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded an Obama-era guidance for universities on handling sexual assault under Title IX.
DeVos says these guidelines did not provide due process for the accused, while advocates of the policy argue it offers necessary protection for victims.