Maryland’s 2020 legislative session was cut short by the COVID virus, but we still made progress for sexual assault survivors. To the very end, MCASA continued to advocate on behalf of survivors of all types of sexual assault: child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual exploitation. Our goal is to improve systems at every level. Survivors should have access to justice, services, and support without regard to their immigration status, gender identity, class, race, age, or choice to participate in the criminal or civil justices systems. Sexual assault must be condemned no matter who the assailant is. The law should stop sexual violence without regard to whether the offender is a spouse, a co-worker, a family member, or clergy.
This year’s state legislative session continued important progress for sexual assault survivors. Legislation is one of the ultimate collaborative efforts, and this session was no exception. Legislators are the stars of the show and we continue to be grateful to the elected officials who are devoted to prioritizing bills to end sexual violence. Three of MCASA’s top bills were successful, and we are so appreciative of the legislators who shepherded them through. First term Delegate Sandy Bartlett continues to be a strong voice for survivors, passing bills to protect survivor privacy, expand access to SAFE exams, and prohibit law enforcement from asking survivors to sign waivers of further investigation. Senator Jeff Waldstreicher and Senator Shelly Hettleman were strong and capable lead sponsors of these bills in the Senate. The law providing sex trafficking survivors with the ability to vacate convictions of minor crimes passed after several sessions with the able leadership of Senator Susan Lee and Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary. The bill to repeal marriage as a defense to sex crimes was caught in the efforts to get to an early sine die, but Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield passed the bill easily through the House. Senator Susan Lee was a fierce advocate in the Senate, valiantly fighting off attempts to weaken the bill with amendments. We look forward to passing a full repeal of marriage as a defense to sex crimes in the future.
Policy issues are of enormous importance, but services for sexual assault survivors are also critical. Senator Guy Guzzone, the new chair of the Budget & Tax Committee, was enormously helpful with efforts to support continuity of victim services funding and everyone working in the field owes him a debt of gratitude. The chairs of the public safety subcommittees, Senator Cory McCray and Delegate Keith Haynes, helped ensure that the impact of VOCA cuts received needed attention from their subcommittees. Delegate Gabriel Acevero was key to efforts in the House and Senator Sarah Elfreth monitored budget hearings even though she does not sit on the public safety committee. Chair Maggie McIntosh ensured that the strategy for continued funding for services was strong. Together these legislators helped ensure there is oversight of Victims of Crime Act funds and sent the clear message: continuity of services is necessary. Continuity of services is even more important in the face of the pandemic. We are confident that Governor Hogan’s administration will heed the Legislature and support stability for all victim services, including those for survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault.
Over the past 20 years, violence against women has moved from being an issue that handful of legislators paid attention to, to an issue that legislators come to Annapolis wanting to work on. This session was a milestone in that progress. Last year, Delegate Luke Clippinger, an MCASA Visionary Award recipient and lead sponsor of several anti-sexual violence bills, became Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. This session, Senator Will Smith became Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Senator Smith has also been a long-time ally of the women’s community, is an associate member of the Women’s Caucus, and has been lead sponsors of bills to help survivors, such legislation mandating testing of rape kits. Neither legislator is inclined to pass bad bills on any topic, but it is safe to say that both care about the issue of ending sexual violence and that both recognize that survivors have been treated very poorly by the justice system in the past. MCASA appreciates the progress made in the General Assembly and looks forward to continuing to work with both new Chairs to pass fair and effective policies to help sexual assault survivors.
Thank you to everyone who called, emailed, testified and advocated to improved Maryland laws and policies to end sexual violence and support survivors. You are appreciated.