Letter To The Editor: House Bill 496


Did you know that until recently in Maryland, simply stating “no” wasn’t enough to prove rape under the law? Survivors had to demonstrate that force was used or threatened, which overlooked those who “freeze” in response to an assault — a common and natural reaction. Unfortunately, many sexual assault cases have slipped through the cracks as a result of this loophole in Maryland’s second-degree rape statute.

I and other survivors shared our stories with Maryland lawmakers, expressing how crucial it is for our state to establish clear statutory language that recognizes non-consent as a fundamental element of sexual crimes. House Bill 496 (HB496), sponsored by Delegate Emily Shetty, was signed on May 16, 2024, and recognizes that the absence of consent is enough to validate a survivor's experience in court.

Sexual assault does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, at any time, and is often committed by someone you know and trust. At 16, I chose not to report my assault, because I needed to acknowledge my own experience as valid on my own terms. Nationally, about two out of every three sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement. According to Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA), Maryland had a total of 2,318 reported rapes in 2021 and 1,891 in 2020. With HB496, Maryland sets an example by affirming that consent must be a clear and voluntary agreement and allows for victims to revoke consent to sexual activity via their conduct - not only by explicitly saying “no,” enabling more survivors to speak out and seek justice.

With the 10th anniversary of my own assault passing this year, I now feel a sense of pride and joy knowing others will have their experiences validated, recognized and supported by statute. I am deeply thankful for the unwavering support of my friends; my partner; my boss, Delegate Brian Chisholm; Delegate Emily Shetty; and MCASA. Their support empowered me to share my most vulnerable and personal story.

This year marked my fourth legislative session at the Maryland General Assembly, each year more rewarding than the last. I've cherished my role in educating others about the legislative process and encouraging active participation. It's empowering to realize that the advice I’ve often given — to speak out and share your perspective — would become a mantra for my own healing journey. Sharing this deeply personal story within my professional setting wasn't easy. However, I’m grateful to have used my position in public office to shed light on the reality of sexual assault experienced by many Marylanders. This moment of vulnerability spurred legislative changes and raised awareness about the issue. To anyone who hasn't testified on a bill or spoken up about a personal issue, know that your voice can have a profound impact.

As we continue to discuss consent in schools, among friends, and at home, it’s crucial to ensure everyone understands and respects boundaries. If you think you are mature enough to engage in sexual activity, you are also responsible for ensuring clear, mutual consent. If you or someone you know is seeking support, please reach out to your local rape crisis and recovery center. For those in Anne Arundel County, the number is 410-626-7800. Your experience matters, and your voice can lead to meaningful change.

Aysia Rodriguez
Chief of Staff to Delegate Brian Chisholm (District 31)


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