A bill that would help sexual assault victims bring charges against their attackers is heading to Gov. Larry Hogan's desk after passing through the Maryland General Assembly on April 7.
The legislation, called the "No Means No" law, would redefine Maryland's definition of rape by clarifying that evidence of a victim's physical resistance, or physical resistance in general, is not needed to prove sexual assault occurred.
Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery), one of the bill's 65 co-sponsors, called it "a very important piece of legislation."
Dumais said she introduced the bill more than 10 years ago, but it "got a rather chilly reception." Recent reporting by the Huffington Post about the ways sexual assault cases are handled helped convince other legislators to pass the bill, she added.
Although current state law doesn't require victims to have evidence of physical resistance against their attackers, Dumais said it can be implied based on the wording of laws currently in place.
For example, in some sexual assault cases in Baltimore County, law enforcement officers asked victims if they resisted their attackers, she added.
"If the answer was 'no,' those cases weren't really followed through as vigorously, so that was the impetus for putting the bill in," Dumais said. "This just clarifies that you do not have to prove physical resistance in order to prove rape or sexual assault."
Alanna Deleon, president of this university's sexual assault prevention organization, Preventing Sexual Assault, said she wished the bill had been passed a long time ago, but added she is glad lawmakers are making the change.
"It's definitely a step forward in the direction of all survivors," Deleon said. "It will allow survivors the opportunity to feel protected and supported and believed."
Tali Nourieli, a freshman enrolled in letters and sciences, agreed the bill contains an important clarification.
"I don't believe that you have to physically fight back in order for it to be considered rape," Nourieli said. "If you're saying 'no' and don't want it to happen, you don't have to be fighting back."
The small change can make a big difference for women who experienced sexual assault, Dumais said.
"The message we give to young women, and women of all ages, is that if you're assaulted, the idea is to survive," Dumais said. "If you're worried that you're going to be harmed more if you resist, you shouldn't have to resist in order to prove you were assaulted."
Dumais said she thinks Hogan will approve the bill.
"It's a very simple bill," she said. "I think everyone is in agreement now that it's clarification that's long past due."