Laws go into ef­fect to help vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Dresser

No truly means no un­der Mary­land law as of Sun­day. Acts that most would con­sider rape will be called just that. And ev­i­dence of sex­ual as­sault will have to be kept for 20 years.

Those three mea­sures are among hun­dreds of bills that take ef­fect Oct. 1 af­ter be­ing passed by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly this year in a land­mark ses­sion for ad­vo­cates of sex­ual as­sault vic­tims.

Un­der one of the bills, Mary­land law will now ex­plic­itly state that a vic­tim of a sex as­sault does not have to phys­i­cally re­sist for the at­tack to be pros­e­cuted as a crime. An­other says that co­erced oral or anal sex is as much a rape as forced in­ter­course.

A third sets a statewide stan­dard for law en­force­ment to pre­serve “rape kits,” end­ing a pol­icy un­der which some ju­ris­dic­tions dis­carded them af­ter a few months.

“We def­i­nitely im­proved Mary­land’s laws for sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault on a num­ber of dif­fer­ent lev­els,” said Lisae Jor­dan, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mary­land Coali­tion Against Sex­ual As­sault.

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Other mea­sures that will be­come law in­clude a ban on frack­ing, a pro­hi­bi­tion on the sale of state lot­tery tick­ets over the in­ter­net and a ground-break­ing ban on so-called “price-goug­ing” on generic drugs.

Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan will see two of his top ini­tia­tives be­come law: a tight­en­ing of leg­isla­tive ethics laws in re­sponse to a series of scan­dals and an over­haul of the way the state pro­cures goods and ser­vices.

An­other ad­min­is­tra­tion bill will al­low the Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Ad­min­is­tra­tion to au­to­mat­i­cally ex­punge the driv­ing records of Mary­lan­ders whose li­cense sus­pen­sions were not re­lated to safety vi­o­la­tions.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion es­ti­mated about 600,000 Mary­lan­ders would ben­e­fit, in­clud­ing those whose li­censes were sus­pended over such mat­ters as fall­ing be­hind on child sup­port. The leg­is­la­tion re­flects a broader trend of re­mov­ing mi­nor of­fenses from peo­ple’s records that can block them from get­ting work.

The sex­ual as­sault pack­age also re­flects chang­ing times and at­ti­tudes.

Del. Kath­leen Du­mais, who spon­sored the bill on phys­i­cal re­sis­tance, said the re­cep­tion was far dif­fer­ent in 2017 than when the mea­sure was in­tro­duced in 2003 and 2004 — first by then-Del. An­thony G. Brown and then by Du­mais.

“We called it ‘No Means No’ and we couldn’t get it out of com­mit­tee,” the Mont­gomery County Demo­crat said. “This year that bill sailed through like it was the best idea that ever was and no re­sis­tance what­so­ever.”

Du­mais, vice chair of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said the ex­ist­ing law doesn’t ex­plic­itly re­quire phys­i­cal re­sis­tance to bring a rape charge. But she said some po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors have been re­luc­tant to pur­sue a case un­less a woman could show she put up a fight.

That put the law at odds with the warn­ings women are given about the dan­gers of fight­ing back against a sex as­sault.

“We of­ten tell women, in gen­eral, if you are be­ing at­tacked, get through it,” she said. With the new law in place, Du­mais said she hopes po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors will show a new aware­ness that they have to lis­ten to vic­tims and not drop cases just be­cause there was no phys­i­cal re­sis­tance.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, who chairs the Se­nate com­mit­tee that ap­proved the bill, said the change will be es­pe­cially im­por­tant when cases reach the jury room.

“The in­struc­tions that were given on this is­sue were mud­dled,” the Baltimore County Demo­crat said. He said they will now be crys­tal clear.

The new law ex­pand­ing the def­i­ni­tion of rape doesn’t change the crim­i­nal penal­ties or re­quire­ments for reg­is­ter­ing as a sex­ual of­fender, Jor­dan said. But she said it is a mat­ter of “re­spect for sur­vivors” — in­clud­ing men in some cases.

Un­der cur­rent law, such acts as forced oral or anal in­ter­course were clas­si­fied as sex­ual as­saults. Jor­dan said it has been “an emo­tional blow” for vic­tims to learn the law didn’t con­sider their ex­pe­ri­ences to be rape.

“These are rapists, and they should be la­beled as such,” Jor­dan said.

Zirkin, who spon­sored the Se­nate bill on preser­va­tion of rape kits, said his com­mit­tee heard tes­ti­mony that there was no uni­form statewide stan­dard for han­dling such ev­i­dence.

The leg­is­la­tion fol­lowed an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Baltimore Sun that found po­lice de­part­ments had dis­carded hun­dreds of rape kits, which typ­i­cally in­clude such ev­i­dence as the as­sailant’s bod­ily flu­ids. It de­scribed the case of a Baltimore County woman who was sex­u­ally as­saulted in 2013 but didn’t de­cide to seek pros­e­cu­tion of the crime un­til 2016. By then, the ev­i­dence had been de­stroyed.

Zirkin and Jor­dan said it’s not un­usual for vic­tims who ini­tially were un­will­ing to go through a trial to be ready to do so years later.

“We should keep open all roads for some­one to pros­e­cute a case,” Zirkin said.

Zirkin was also the Se­nate spon­sor of the leg­is­la­tion ban­ning frack­ing in Mary­land — a mea­sure adopted af­ter Ho­gan be­came a con­vert to the cause.

Mary­land be­came the third state to ban frack­ing, but the only one with nat­u­ral gas re­serves to en­act a ban by law, Zirkin said. Frack­ing is short for hy­draulic frac­tur­ing, a process in which chem­i­cals are in­jected into nat­u­ral gas pock­ets to ex­tract the fuel.

“Based on all re­search and a grow­ing body of ev­i­dence, we pro­tected not just wa­ter sup­ply and clean air but hu­man health,” Zirkin said. He pointed to ev­i­dence that con­nects frack­ing with in­creased in­ci­dences of can­cer and fer­til­ity prob­lems.

Mary­land also jumped ahead of other states when it adopted leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing the at­tor­ney gen­eral to take generic drug com­pa­nies to court if he be­lieves they have raised prices to un­con­scionable lev­els. The mea­sure will be­come law with­out Ho­gan’s sig­na­ture, but there is a ques­tion about how long it will re­main in force.

The leg­is­la­tion faced a chal­lenge in fed­eral court by an in­dus­try group that claims it is un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally vague and vi­o­lates the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion’s clause giv­ing Congress the power to reg­u­late in­ter­state com­merce. Afed­eral judge re­fused Fri­day to block the law from tak­ing ef­fect.

Vin­cent DeMarco, the mea­sure’s chief ad­vo­cate, wel­comed the rul­ing.

“A lot of other states are look­ing at what we’re do­ing,” said DeMarco, pres­i­dent of the Mary­land Cit­i­zens Health Ini­tia­tive.

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