Frontline Fight: Legislative Update 2015
MCASA Public Policy Intern (Spring 2015)
The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) advocates for effective state public policies for survivors and victims of sexual violence. MCASA continues to support and advocate for legislation that promotes justice for survivors of sexual violence, holds perpetrators accountable, and provides protection against future instances of sexual assault. This past legislative session, MCASA made significant strides for victims and survivors of sexual assault with the passage of many bills.
[caption id="attachment_7530" align="aligncenter" width="300"]
MCASA attended the bill signing for SB477, which expanded the Protective Orders statute.[/caption]
The 2015 legislative session presented several wins for survivors and victims of sexual violence in Maryland, starting with SB477/HB606, regarding expansion of protective orders, which finally passed after a decade of advocacy. This bill expanded the “persons eligible for relief” under the protective order statute to include cases involving parties who had a sexual relationship within the past year. Before this bill passed, persons who had a sexual relationship within the past year did not qualify as eligible for relief under the protective order statute and were only eligible for a peace order. Peace orders provide less protection for victims who experience dating violence because they are only issued for a short period of time and are narrower in scope. SB477/HB606 corrects the gap in protection for victims of dating violence by affording them longer and more protection, and it passed in part due to the courageous testimony of a survivor affected by the limitations under the previous statute. The bill was sponsored by Delegate Kathleen Dumais and Senator Victor Ramirez (and originally introduced by former Senator Chris Shank, the new Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention). It took years to pass and we are grateful for the tenaciousness of the sponsors, co-sponsors, and advocates.
A bill to address college sexual assault was also enacted. It will improve collaboration at the local level by requiring colleges to pursue formalized agreements with their local rape crisis centers, MCASA, or both. Agreements between college law enforcement and local law enforcement must also be pursued. HB571 will also provide amnesty for survivors and witnesses who report sexual violence without fear of being charged with other violations under the student conduct code related to alcohol or drugs. The bill also requires a climate survey every two years for college campuses in order to assess the nature of the school’s response to sexual assault situations. The passage of HB571 is timely and comes in parallel with the conclusion of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) this past April. This year’s national SAAM theme, coordinated by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, focused on college sexual assault and ways in which colleges can improve their sexual assault prevention and response policies to better protect survivors and victims of sexual assault. Maryland HB571 builds upon growing momentum at the national scale, as shown by the 2013 passage of the Campus SaVE Act and the 2014 creation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Violence, and will help to channel this energy into local-level collaborations throughout the state. Freshman Delegate Shelly Hettleman was the lead sponsor on this important legislation.
Two bills advancing protection for victims of human trafficking also passed. HB905/SB520 passed with amendments, creating an affirmative defense of human trafficking for defendants who are charged with prostitution when the trafficker has been criminally charged—no conviction is required. Furthermore, SB521/HB456 created a Safe Harbor work group to address the issue prosecution of minors for prostitution, and how to prevent sexually exploited children and teens from being treated as criminals. Questions the group will address include how to best to respond to trafficked minors and which agencies are best suited to provide services.
However, we also faced significant challenges during this legislative session. Once again, the House Judiciary Committee failed to vote on SB78/HB503, The Rape Survivor Family Protection Act. This bill sought to correct an injustice to rape survivors that’s perpetuated by current Maryland law. Current law gives rapists who cause a child to be conceived as the result of the rape the same parental rights as other biological parents. Additionally, under current law, if the rapist cannot be located, then the victim’s name must be published in the newspaper, failing to provide the proper privacy protections for victims of rape. SB78/HB503 would correct these injustices and take away the parental rights of rapists with the showing of clear and convincing evidence.
Unfortunately, this bill was not called for a vote, despite the fact that this issue received national recognition. The Daily Show
shed light on the lack of protection for survivors who become pregnant as the result of rape by “state shaming” Maryland and other states with similar family law deficits. As Daily Show Correspondent Samantha Bee put it, “Victims of rape should not have to choose between dropping charges and a custody battle.” Closer to home, ABC news also reported on the struggle
to pass this bill in Maryland. Lisae Jordan, MCASA’s Executive Director, stated that the purpose is simple, in that “it’s a bill that would help survivors and help Maryland to say if you want to have a baby after you’ve been raped, we support you and the rapists won’t have rights.” MCASA welcomes the newfound urgency brought by the statewide and national media attention, and will continue to support this legislation next year in Annapolis.
The 2015 legislative session saw major strides in advancing policies for survivors and victims, and MCASA continues to take every opportunity to continue working and fighting to stop sexual violence, support survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable. We also continue our longstanding advocacy for maintaining funding for rape crisis centers and preventing loss of services for victims of child and sexual assault. To view our full final legislative report, please click here
This article appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Frontline.