Taking our heads out of the sand

The 21st century has seen the introduction of new threats and the continuation of old ones. Human traffickers and sexual offenders still lurk in the shadows, while online harassers hide behind the internet’s veil of anonymity. Maryland’s proximity to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. has made the I-95 corridor a hot zone for human trafficking, evidence of which can be found at any truck stop along the route. But even perpetrators of human trafficking have migrated online to attract and abuse their victims. Also online are harassers and stalkers who threaten to ruin lives by posting a victim’s personal information or images on the internet. Citizens should be safe wherever they are, whether at home, online, or on a college campus.

Jon is running for Attorney General to keep Maryland two steps ahead of the threats facing our families. Unfortunately, a major threat in our rapidly changing world is sex crimes both digital and in person. Jon recently introduced legislation to criminalize a disturbing new trend called cyber sexual harassment, also known as “revenge porn” when one person posts sexually explicit images of another to social media websites without the victim’s knowledge or consent. He also sponsored a bill to create sexual assault reporting programs on college campuses to keep students safe and the public informed. Jon has been and continues to be a vocal supporter of Megan’s Law which implemented tougher penalties for sex offenders, rapists, and child abusers. Jon also supports requiring the lifetime supervision of sex offenders and co-sponsored legislation to strip convicted human traffickers of the profits of their crimes. As Attorney General, combatting sex crimes will be one of Jon’s top priorities.

Jon's Plan to Combat Sexual Assault in Maryland 

Sexual assault is one of the most heinous and emotionally traumatizing crimes, and in Maryland, it’s on the rise. Out of the nine categories of crime tracked by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, rape is the only one that has shown a marked increase. In 2012, 1,236 instances of raped were reported, which represents an increase of 3.3%. Unfortunately, 60% of rapes are typically not reported to the police. That means that more than 2,000 people were raped in Maryland in 2012 alone.

https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates

Source: https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates

As Attorney General, Jon Cardin will make combatting this often invisible crime one of his top priorities. While Maryland’s Attorney General is not a criminal prosecutor, Jon believes there is a role for the state’s top legal officer to help combat one of the most prolific and heinous crimes affecting women. Jon refuses to be limited by the traditional role of the Attorney General, but will instead usher in a new age for the Office, expanding its reach and influence to take bold action to solve pressing problems. This includes working internally to refocus government resources, ensuring that agencies are making the most of what they have, directing money from the AG’s Office directly into effective programs, and using the bully pulpit and legislative arm of the office to lobby for crucial legislation to implement comprehensive services for victims and more effective penalties for criminals.

Specifically, Jon will employ the resources of the Attorney General's Office to assist in reducing the backlog in the processing of rape kits, and take legal action to force public universities to take seriously the task of offering victims compassionate and competent assistance. 80% of rape victims are under the age of 30, and college campuses are a hotbed of the epidemic that is sexual assault.

Ending the Backlog in Rape Kit Processing 

Sexual assault victims in Maryland can be assured that under a Cardin administration, every available resource will be used to prevent untested rape kits from languishing in evidence lockers, delaying the prosecution of rapists.

The DNA evidence in rape kits is often the smoking gun needed to solve or prevent a crime. This evidence can be used to identify an unknown perpetrator and can also confirm a suspected assailant. DNA evidence can support a victim's account of the assault, and also has the ability to exonerate an innocent suspect. In order for this process to become more efficient, the kit must be tested. Unfortunately, due to lack of resources, Maryland suffers from a backlog in rape kit processing. While the exact number of untested rape kits is unknown, the New Republican estimates there are about 400,000 untested kits across the country meaning Maryland likely has thousands of untested rape kits. Legislation to remedy the problem, the Sexual Assault Survivors' Right to Know Act (HB 1341) failed in the House Judiciary Committee this year.

Under HB1341, which stalled in the House Judiciary Committee, law enforcement offices will be required to annually report the number of untested rape kits in their possession. In addition, victims will be allowed to track the progress of their kits through the system. If elected, Jon will strongly advocate for increased funding to end these backlogs and use his legislative office to advance legislation like the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Right to know Act. 

Reducing Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Source: Stop Abuse Campaign

In the 2014 legislative session, Jon proposed HB 19, which would require all colleges and universities in Maryland to periodically issue anonymous victimization surveys to the student body as part of his continued effort to protect our state’s youth from the threat of sexual violence on college campuses. Studies have shown that one in four women are likely to experience some level of sexual assault by the time they graduate college, a number which Jon feels is alarming and requires immediate attention.

Last year, a group of women filed a federal sex discrimination lawsuit against the University of Connecticut, alleging that the university mishandled allegations of sexual assault, more specifically that it failed to punish sexual assault perpetrators and protect the survivors. Unfortunately, allegations of this nature are not unique to the University of Connecticut and similar allegations have begun to appear at universities nationwide.

Often, internal campus judicial systems sweep these cases under the rug by persuading victims not to report their assault, blaming the victim for being intoxicated, or wearing something too provocative. Instead of reporting the incident to the police, college administrators take only administrative action and claim justice was done while the victim remains in danger and suffers without justice.

Towson University, located in the heart of Baltimore County, hosts more than 20,000 students. According to a Department of Justice study, a college with 10,000 students can experience as many as 350 rapes per year. However, only 6 rapes were reported to Towson University campus authorities in 2013. The other largest universities in Maryland, University of Maryland and University of Maryland, Baltimore County, reported zero rapes. This is an enormous discrepancy that deserves more attention.

Other examples include, North Carolina University, where the administration pressured the assistant Dean of Students to underreport cases of sexual assault. At Harvard University, officials ignored numerous complaints about a student who was forced to live in the same house as her rapist. At the University of Berkeley, campus officials told a victim flat out that punishing her assailant may lead to legal retaliation. And most famously, at Penn state, the sexual abuse of at least eight young boys was covered up by administration officials.

While such highly publicized cases have yet to reach the state of Maryland, Jon believes the scale of the problem requires a proactive approach. Jon has frequently said that a lawsuit against a Maryland university would be difficult for an Attorney General to defend, and therefore has urged the universities to implement transparent and compassionate policies that put victims first and public relations second. It is his hope that such a definitive statement will serve as a catalyst for universities to examine and reform the ways in which they handle allegations of sexual violence. Additionally, when Jon is elected Attorney General, he will swear an oath to uphold the Constitutions of both Maryland and the United States. Defending the state when it clearly infringes upon citizens’ civil rights, as may be the case in such litigation, would violate that oath.

Source: Think Progress

With allegations of mishandling complaints increasingly appearing throughout the country, universities are often more interested in protecting reputations than protecting students. These universities cannot be permitted to keep their heads in the sand any longer. “Boys will be boys” and victim shaming are unacceptable responses that many in government and college administration offices have offered in the past. As long as these attitudes persist, positive and progressive action must be taken to ensure that sexual assault is properly addressed by the State.  Protecting colleges and universities that remain ignorant to their flawed Title IX obligations is a step in the wrong direction and one that Jon refuses to take.