Looking back on the last year at MCASA, we are so thankful for everyone who has supported our work and for those who will continue to do so this year and beyond. 2023 is off to a busy start at MCASA! The new year brings the start to the 2023 Maryland Legislative Session, which began on January 11th. MCASA will continue to advocate for legislation that promotes justice for survivors of sexual violence, accountability for offenders, and protection for the general public. We hosted our annual Legislative Reception in Annapolis on January 19th and it was great to see so many supporters and legislators back in person! Thank you to everyone who attended and sponsored the evening. You make our advocacy in Annapolis possible.
This session MCASA is helping support Delegate Emily Shetty's bill on consent, HB412. This would change Maryland's rape law to reflect what we believe: that sex without consent is rape. Current law focuses on the victim and whether or not there was resistance. It's time to reject that idea and give people the right to control their own bodies. The hearing on HB412 is scheduled for Tuesday, February 21st, with testimony sign-up available on Friday, February 17th, from 8am-3pm. If you are interested in submitting written testimony, you can find a tutorial on submitting written testimony here and guidelines here.
Speaking of archaic notions, two other bills seek to move Maryland into the 21st century. A bill to Repeal "Unnatural and Perverted" Sexual Practices has been heard in committee and was voted out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. MCASA is working in collaboration with our partners at FreeState Justice, the Maryland State's Attorneys Association, and other organizations to remove this law criminalizing consensual sex between adults. Another relic in the code is a law that makes marriage a defense to sex crimes. Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield continues to champion a Repeal of Spousal Defense bill to repeal this antiquated notion and give married people the right to say no. The House Judiciary Committee has already heard this bill and we look forward to a hearing in the Senate soon.
Funding continues to be a top priority of MCASA, and we agree 110% with Governor Wes Moore's observation that Maryland is asset rich and strategy poor. After many years of seeing victim services treated as a luxury that should only be funded if the Federal Government supports them, we look forward to the State partnering with Rape Crisis Centers and other victim services providers to create a better response for survivors. Chair Guy Guzzone and Chair Ben Barnes have sponsored an important bill to stabilize victim services funding by designating a set amount of funding for VOCA services (Victim of Crime Act). This would use federal funds first, and then fill in any shortfall with state dollars. This bill affects victim services programs of all sorts, not just Rape Crisis Centers. MCASA has been leading a group of other providers and coalitions for several years to address problems with VOCA and we are all enormously grateful to Chairs Guzzone and Barnes for their leadership.
MCASA also continues general budget advocacy to help ensure that Rape Crisis Centers receive increased support. One program describes the need:
"We have seen a dramatic change in the complexity of needs of clients we are serving. Many are now experiencing severe substance use disorder, untreated mental health diagnoses, housing, job challenges, and more. Comparing a period of services in the current year, to the same period last year, the number of clients served increased by 30%, however the number of services provided increased 130%. This creates increased staffing needs, specialized training needs, facility limitations, and more."
Maryland has the resources. We need to help survivors. MCASA’s full list of legislative priorities is available here.
We are happy to share another edition of Frontline with you. In our Prevention Corner, we discuss the prevention of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as sexual violence prevention. In our Survivor Safety column, we provide an overview of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and highlight new confidential resources for survivors. We also discuss the importance of access to Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) information for college students and survivors in our College Consortium column. In addition, we raise awareness of sexual violence against sex workers. Finally, we share some key findings from the CDC's recently released Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary and Trends Report, which highlights the immense impact of sexual violence on youth.
We invite you to join us in our efforts to end sexual violence. You can become a member to support survivors in Maryland and support our legislative efforts. You can also make a donation and help us serve Maryland survivors.
Lisae Jordan, Esq.
Executive Director & Counsel
Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault