Rights bill advances for West Virginia sex assault victims
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Senate unanimously voted Wednesday to establish rights for sex assault victims that include having someone accompany them to medical exams and police interviews, having their rape kits tested and preserved and being able to obtain the results.
DNA is collected in the kits and can be compared with other collected DNA, including data records of felons’ genetic profiles, according to backers of the plan.
“If they’re the victim of a sexual assault they have a right to know,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump said. There’s an exception to learning the results if disclosure would compromise an ongoing investigation, he said.
Sen. Mike Woelfel, the lead sponsor, said West Virginia’s State Police lab is taking 440 days on average to process rape kits. He introduced another bill, pending in committee, to authorize a state commission to establish time frames and protocols for processing kits.
“The fact is we don’t treat our sexual assault victims very well,” said Woelfel, a former prosecutor and juvenile court referee. About one in every three or four girls and one in seven or eight boys are victims of the “grossly under reported crime,” and the legislation is intended to help more victims come forward, he said.
Woelfel said that commonly waiting about two years to have a rape kit evaluated is unacceptable for victims, “not to mention what those serial predators are doing in the interim.”
Under the legislation, victims also could request notification from the agency keeping the evidence of any intention to dispose of it. They then could request in writing that it be kept 10 more years.
The Senate also unanimously passed two other crime-related measures Wednesday that now go to the House for consideration.
One bill would raise the possible maximum sentence for daytime felony burglary from 10 years to 15 years, the current penalty in the law for committing the crime at night.
The other would reauthorize and slightly reorganize the state’s Commission on Special Investigations, which probes state government corruption. Its members include five members of the Senate and five from the House of Delegates.
It would be chaired by the House speaker and Senate president, who would choose the other members, but no more than two each from their own political parties. The chairs also approve its staff.
Woelfel, who has been a commission member, said it examines possible abuses of power and is keeping its eyes open. The bill would authorize the commission to order information kept confidential, including by whistleblowers, to avoid interfering with probes or prejudicing “due administration of justice.”
It would stablish a crime for impersonating a commission member or staff.