By Lisae C. Jordan, Esq., Executive Director and General Counsel
One of the primary goals of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault is to improve laws that affect survivors of sexual assault. Since 2003, MCASA has been represented at every session in Annapolis and advocated for needed changes. This work has helped bring about many important modifications in Maryland’s public policy. There is still much more that needs to be done. Here are some of the greatest achievements, as well as what we are still working on:
- Until 2011, sex crimes involving penetration with a finger or fist were treated less seriously than penetration with an object. Victims experience penetration as penetration, and the law finally treats these acts with the same degree of seriousness.
- Rape shield statutes prohibit a defendant from introducing evidence of a victim’s sexual history with people other than the defendant as “proof” she or he was not sexually assaulted or had consented to sex. In 2003, Maryland’s rape shield law was expanded to include all victims of sex crimes; previously law failed to protect boys, did not apply to child sexual abuse and elder abuse, and was limited to certain crimes.
- Maryland’s stalking law was revised to prohibit conduct that would place someone in fear of rape, sexual offenses and their attempts; previously the law had been largely ineffective.
- Maryland requires grounds for divorce. In 2003, the law was changed to allow a spouse of a perpetrator of child sexual abuse (or other child abuse) to file for absolute divorce immediately. Previously, violence against a spouse was grounds for divorce, but violence against a child was not.
- Maryland courts can now grant permanent protective orders order if the offender has been convicted of a crime of which the survivor was the victim and the perpetrator serves at least five years in prison.
- Gender was added to Maryland’s hate crime statute.
- It is now mandatory that a respondent in a final protective order surrender and refrain from possessing firearms during the duration of the order. Furthermore, while not mandatory, judges now have the option of requiring a respondent to surrender firearms during a temporary protective order.
- Orders protecting victims can now be extended: protective orders may be issued for two years if certain conditions are met; peace orders may be extended for 6 months.
- Some survivors may need to relocate to feel safe. The law now allows a victim to terminate a lease if a final protective order or peace order has been issued.
- School officials now have the option to prevent a student arrested for sexually assaulting another student from attending the same school or riding the same school bus pending trial. Furthermore, the perpetrator is prohibited from attending the same school or riding the same school bus after a conviction.
There is still more to be done.
Our 2013 goals include:
- To close the loophole in Maryland’s child sex abuse law. The current “Saturday afternoon exception” allows certain persons in authority to be treated differently if they have sexual contact with a child depending on whether that child is in their care.
- To limit a rapist’s parental rights. Current law gives rapists who cause a child to be conceived the same rights as other biological parents. Additionally, if a rapist-parent cannot be located, current law requires that the victim’s name be published in the newspaper.
- To include survivors of sexual violence under a more specific protective order statute. Currently, many victims of sexual violence and victims of dating violence are only eligible for peace orders instead of protective orders. Protective orders can be issued for a longer period of time and are generally taken more seriously.
- To better compensate victims for their crime-related expenses. Being a victim of a crime can be expensive. MCASA will continue to advocate that costs paid by defendants convicted of crime be increased and that the money be used to help support Criminal Injuries Compensation Board rewards.
- To ensure sexual violence during any crime be treated seriously. Most sex crimes in Maryland are treated with additional seriousness when committed in conjunction with a burglary in the first, second, or third degree. However, if a survivor is touched on the genitals or breast during a burglary, the crime does not receive this “special treatment.” MCASA believes that any type of sexual violence should trigger the court to consider additional seriousness in conjunction with a burglary crime.
To visit MCASA’s Legislative Agenda webpage, click here
This article is a part of the Fall 2012 issue of Frontline. View this article as a PDF.