A new Maryland law changing the legal definition of rape will make it easier to charge and convict alleged sexual offenders in the state. Gov. Larry Hogan signed a law Tuesday mandating that a victim doesn't have to physically resist an attacker for it to be considered rape, meaning victims won't have to offer evidence of a struggle in court.
The law will go into effect in October, and comes after a BuzzFeed News report revealed that Baltimore County police frequently dismiss rape allegations without even investigating them. In February, Baltimore County announced police officers won't be allowed to condemn rape accusations as unfounded anymore, giving that responsibility to prosecutors instead.
State Delegate Kathleen Dumais introduced the bill, co-sponsored by State Sen. Delores Kelley, after her first attempt to get rid of the physical-resistance requirement failed years ago. Now that it's on the books, law enforcement, attorneys, and the courts can't claim someone wasn't really raped if they didn't physically fight back.
On top of clarifying that saying "no" demonstrates sex was nonconsensual, the updated definition of rape will also make it easier to convict alleged rapists in cases when the victim was unconscious and couldn't physically resist.
Although the U.S. Justice Department's definition of rape states, "Physical resistance is not required on the part of the victim to demonstrate lack of consent," states still dictate their own definitions. In a 2014 op-ed for The Guardian, Deborah Tuerkheimer pointed out that more than half the states require proof of resistance. And while some of the language specifying that someone wasn't raped if they didn't physically fight back has been "softened or eliminated," evidence is still needed to get a conviction.
Maryland now follows in the footsteps of Minnesota, which defines consent as "words or overt actions by a person indicating a freely given present agreement to perform a particular sexual act with the actor" and states that sexual contact without said consent is a sexual offense. Though Minnesota law doesn't explicitly say proof of resistance isn't necessary, its definition and requirement of consent shoots down the argument for physical resistance.
The updated definition of rape in Maryland will eradicate a major obstacle sexual assault victims currently face. Even if they don't have visible bruises or marks on their bodies, it will be possible to put their alleged attackers behind bars.