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Fraternity brother’s sexual assault leads Md. legislator to push

2017-04-14

Maryland is on track to change its definition of rape after a delegate, whose fraternity brother was raped two decades ago, sought to change how the law describes sexual assaults. The change follows complaints from victims that some cases over the years were not being taken seriously.

On April 5, the General Assembly passed a bill to eliminate references to gender and classify all nonconsensual sexual violations as rape. The bill now goes to Gov. Larry Hogan (R), whose spokeswoman indicated Friday that he will sign it.

Should the bill become law, in some sense, nothing will change — “rape” and “penetrating sexual offense” have carried the same penalty.

But words have weight.

“It’s a question of using terms that correctly describe what happened to a human being,” said Lisae C. Jordan, executive director and counsel of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

“He was the one who raised the issue to me,” Reznik said. “I realized this was a really big issue. It’s a huge issue for the LGBT community. Like in every other community, rape happens.”

In an interview, Reznik’s fraternity brother, a 43-year-old man from Carroll County, said he was raped by a male friend in 1995 while a student at what then was Towson State University.

He said he tried to report the rape to police, but they called it a “lovers’ spat.”

“I got laughed out of the police station,” the man said. The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sex crimes.

For more than 22 years, he said, he has been haunted by the attack. He tried to kill himself. He went to rehab for alcoholism. Except for a few counselors, he kept it a secret from everyone, even his parents, brother and wife.

“I just never knew how to tell her because it’s embarrassing as a guy,” he said. “It really is.”

The rape also brought isolation. He thought about a career in teaching but chose a different profession. There was depression on each anniversary of the event. Crying jags. And the fear of other men.

“I didn’t have any male friends outside of the ones I knew from college for 18-plus years,” he said. “I didn’t attempt to make new ones. I didn’t want any new ones. I stayed away entirely from men.”

In 2013, as part of his recovery from alcoholism, he began to speak to his fraternity brothers about the incident. Reznik did not attend Towson but was in a different chapter of the same fraternity. Aware that Reznik was a delegate, the man decided to share his experience with him.

“Eventually, I mentioned something: It would be nice if the law were different,” he said. “And here we are today.”

States define sexual assaults in different ways. Some use the word “rape,” and some do not; some reference the gender of the victim or assailant, and some do not.

In Alabama, for example, a person commits “rape” if “he or she engages in sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex by forcible compulsion,” but commits “sodomy” if “he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another person by forcible compulsion,” according to a survey of rape statues by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Utah, by comparison, a person “commits rape when the actor has sexual intercourse with another person without the victim’s consent.”

Jordan said that many states do not make the distinction between rape and other sexual assaults that Maryland does.

“It was driven by the emotional experiences of victims of rape who were told they were not raped,” she said.

Reznik said that he sought a definition of rape that did not reference gender, sexual identity or the nature of a sexual assault.

“Victims at least deserve the dignity of having their assailant charged with rape,” he said.

For the man who inspired the legislation, a change in vocabulary will not change the past, but he said that it may brighten the future.

“I’m hoping it’s going to be a piece of closure for me,” he said.

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