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How Does Maryland Law Address Consent in Sexual Abuse Cases?

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What Is the Role of Consent in Maryland Sexual Abuse Cases?

In Maryland, consent is an essential factor in determining whether an act legally constitutes a sex crime. Under the state’s laws, consent requires the freely given agreement of a person who is of legal age and mental capacity to make such a decision. Non-consensual sexual contact is always a crime. However, some sexual acts are also prohibited based solely on the ages of the individuals involved, regardless of whether consent was given. If you or a loved one were subjected to sexual acts without your consent, it is essential to consult with an experienced sexual abuse lawyer to learn about your legal rights.

Who is Legally Unable to Give Consent Under Maryland Law?

A lack of consent is a crucial point in nearly all sexual abuse cases. Consent must be voluntary and clearly communicated. It cannot be obtained through force, threat, or other forms of coercion. Maryland law also deems specific individuals unable to give consent, including:

  • Individuals under 16: The age of consent in Maryland is 16, and youth below this threshold are not considered legally capable of giving consent for sexual activities. However, limited exceptions to this rule do exist under the state’s laws for individuals close in age.
  • Physically helpless individuals: Anyone who is unconscious, intoxicated, or otherwise unable to understand the situation and communicate consent cannot voluntarily agree.
  • Mentally incapacitated persons: Someone with cognitive impairment due to a congenital condition or injury lacks the capacity to give consent.

Engaging in intercourse, sexual acts, or other sexual contact with any of the above individuals is an illegal and abusive act. Victims may be able to seek justice through the criminal courts, and the perpetrator and any institutions that enabled them could be held liable through civil action.

What are Romeo and Juliet Laws?

Like several other states, Maryland has consent laws that are also referred to as “Romeo and Juliet laws.” The state recognizes that, like the couple in Shakespeare’s play, some teenagers will choose to have serious relationships despite any prohibitions against them. Maryland’s laws attempt to balance the protection of teenagers from predatory sexual abusers against the reality that young couples close in age may engage in consensual sexual relationships and should not be unduly punished with criminal charges for these actions.

Maryland’s laws set age limits that the state has deemed reasonable for sexual contact between consenting partners. As noted above, the age of consent in Maryland is 16, so if the younger partner is 16 or older, mentally capable, and has given consent, the actions generally will not be considered sexual abuse. If the younger partner is under 16 years old, a consensual sexual act is typically only a crime if the other partner is more than three years older. Under these laws, a consensual sexual relationship between an 18-year-old and a 15-year-old would not necessarily be considered a crime, even though one partner is a minor and the other is a legal adult.

Under What Circumstances is Consent Disregarded?

There are specific circumstances where sexual acts are illegal, regardless of whether the individual gave consent. Under Maryland Code, Criminal Law 3-308, persons who are in a position of authority and have responsibility over a minor are strictly prohibited from engaging in sexual contact or acts with them. Persons in positions of authority are defined as people who are 21 years of age or older and volunteer at or are paid employees of an educational institution. An individual at least 22 years old who volunteers or works for a program designed for minors is also considered to be in a position of authority. 

Examples may include:

  • Teachers
  • School counselors
  • Principals
  • Coaches or instructors
  • Tutors
  • Scout leaders
  • Daycare providers
  • Camp counselors or leaders
  • Youth pastors or members of the clergy
  • Government employees

What Legal Action Can You Take if You Were Subjected Non-Consensual Sexual Acts?

Any sexual activity, from inappropriate touching to intercourse, that happened without your consent is illegal. It is vital to remember that, no matter the situation, it is not your fault that this traumatic event occurred. Sexual abuse in childhood or adulthood can cause significant mental and physical health effects for victims, including depression, anxiety, disordered eating behaviors, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The process of seeking justice through the criminal or civil courts can often feel overwhelming or intimidating but can be crucial to your healing journey.

While no criminal or civil consequences for the abuser can undo the suffering you’ve experienced, they may help you move forward with your life. Obtaining full compensation through litigation holds perpetrators and the institutions that enabled them responsible for their acts and may protect others from harm. A fair settlement can ensure financial stability and provide the resources you need to access counseling, therapy, and other treatments that may improve your quality of life. As part of a sexual abuse lawsuit, you may seek compensation for damages, including current and future medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages.

Unfortunately, many sexual abuse victims find it difficult to speak about their experiences, particularly if the incident occurred while they were minors. In the past, this often led to individuals losing their right to file a lawsuit against the perpetrators of the abuse due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Adult survivors of sexual abuse must still act promptly to ensure their claims are made within the state’s three-year time limit. However, recent changes to Maryland’s statutes have removed the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases, allowing survivors’ claims to be heard, no matter when the abuse happened.

How Can Our Law Firm Assist You?

Sexual abuse cases can be complex, and the issue of consent is an essential topic. If consent was not voluntarily given for the act or the victim was incapable of consenting, the perpetrator could face severe legal consequences. Victims of sexual abuse may be hesitant to come forward due to concerns about being believed or the social stigma sometimes attached to these cases. At Andreozzi + Foote, our compassionate and skilled lawyers have years of experience advocating for the rights of sexual abuse victims. We treat every client with the utmost care and respect and fight fiercely for the best possible outcome to their case. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, contact our firm today at 866-311-8640.

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