Maryland Senate gives preliminary approval to two rape investigation bills

A pair of bills that would help police investigating rapes are moving forward in the Maryland Senate.

The Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a pair of bills designed to lift a major barrier to prosecuting rape and ensure that physical evidence of sexual assaults is preserved.

The final debate and vote on the bills is expected on Thursday.

The first bill would make clear that it is not necessary for a victim to show they resisted their attacker. Maryland's rape statute doesn't explicitly require proof or resistance, but courts have ruled that it's necessary evidence to show that sex was forced.

Advocates for sexual-assault victims say the change would lead to many fewer cases' being dismissed as unfounded by police.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, the bill's sponsor, said the resistance requirement puts Maryland at odds with the vast majority of states.

"There have been really ridiculous cases," the Baltimore County Democrat said, in which alleged attackers were cleared under the current law.

The second bill would set statewide rules for the preservation of rape kits, the tools used to gather DNA and other physical evidence when someone reports a rape.

The bill would require that the kits and other crime-scene evidence that prosecutors think will be useful be kept for 20 years, and would give victims the right to know how their kits are being handled.

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, the Baltimore Democrat who was presiding over the Senate, called the rape kits measure "a wonderful bill."

The way in which sexual assaults are investigated attracted particular attention in Baltimore County after a Buzzfeed News report showed police there were dismissing an unusually high number of complaints.

County officials are backing the bills, but have also taken steps on their own to improve their investigations.

The House of Delegates is scheduled to hold a committee hearing on the bills Tuesday afternoon.

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