House moves Sexual Assault Survivors’ bill

March 2, 2019

CHARLESTON — While it’s the third year the bill has unanimously passed the Senate, Wednesday was the first time the West Virginia House of Delegates discussed Sen. Mike Woelfel’s Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights.

The House Judiciary Committee passed an amended version of the bill that specifies the rights of victims as they move through the process of evidence collection and investigation.

The committee amendment adds some clarifications to rights afforded to victims to ensure investigators and other professionals can still make appropriate decisions, specifically regarding children.

The first change adds language to say a victim has a right to have a person of their choice accompany them to the hospital and/or proceedings regarding the alleged assault, including court proceedings and police interviews, provided that it does not interfere with established interview protocols.

The committee’s counsel said this was to ensure protocols for interviewing children, which is typically done alone.

The other change adds language to permit medical professionals to take into account the age of the victim and circumstances of the offense when performing a forensic medical examination.

The other rights in the bill include:

• The right to have a sexual assault evidence collection kit, often referred to as a rape kit, tested and preserved by law enforcement;

• The right to be informed by the investigating law enforcement agency of any result of rape kit testing, unless it would impede an investigation;

• The right to be informed in writing of the policies governing rape kit testing and preservation of evidence;

• The right to receive, upon written request, notification of disposal of evidence 60 days prior;

• The right, upon request, to have evidence preserved for an additional period of no more than 10 years; and

• The right to be informed of these rights.

During the meeting, Del. Tom Fast, R-Fayette, moved to amend the bill to change the wording to “alleged” victim, but he withdrew that amendment.

The bill will be reported to the House floor.