Maryland lawmakers plan to propose bills clarifying state rape, sex assault laws

Will eliminate "force, or the threat of force"

ANNAPOLIS, MD - Two Maryland lawmakers are working to update the state's rape statute.

"Maryland's law is still archaic," said Maryland Senator Delores G Kelley.

Right now, to be charged with the crime, there needs to be "force, or the threat of force" along with a lack of consent. So if victims want to seek justice, they have to resist their attackers and show they fought back.

"One of the few states that insists, in order for a prosecutor to get a conviction on a rape charge, the person must have been subjected to force and must have resisted,” Kelley said.  “And that’s just insane."

Lisae Jordan with the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault said Maryland is behind the times, and a rape victim should not have to choose between possibly getting hurt and getting access to justice.

"It’s just completely backwards from what we’re telling young people today,” Jordan said. “We tell people you have to get consent, if it’s not consent its rape, and then the law doesn’t back that up."

The Maryland Attorney General's Office released a report this week revealing there are more then 3,700 untested rape evidence kits sitting at police departments across the state. It's not because there's a backlog in the crime labs, though. The high numbers are because agencies are deciding not to submit them for testing.

The 25 page document states, “policies related to untested kits may be the result of confusion and ambiguity in Maryland’s current rape statute that requires a rapist use force or a threat of force as an element of the crime. The fact of an assault but the absence of physical resistance may contribute to an agency’s policy decision not to pursue testing or prosecution.”

"I read horrifying reports where women were crying and saying no, and the officer said okay, but did you fight back? And when she said no they said okay, it's not a crime in Maryland,” Jordan said. “That's wrong, we need to change it."

Some local leaders also back improving the legislation, and clarifying people can be charged with rape even if they didn't commit or threaten violence.

"Obviously it is subject to interpretation by each office of the state's attorney, so I think the more definition we give to the crime, the cleaner line there is whether there is a case worthy of prosecution or not," Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said.

It's a conversation that involves both political and law enforcement leaders.

"I think what you need to do, and this discussion is taking place nationally, is to take a look at a number of different variables, whether or not force or threat of force should be redefined,” Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson said.

The planned bills will remove that legal stipulation.

"It's absolutely going to remove from the statute the requirement that there be any resistance, physical resistance put up by the person who is the victim," Kelley said.

She told ABC2 News she already has support from other lawmakers for the change, but does expect some pushback.

"I'm looking forward to the fight,” Kelley said. “I just have a sneaking suspicion that this might be the year."

A similar bill updating the state's rape law was proposed back in 2005, but it died in committee.

The General Assembly is back in session January 11.

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