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Woelfel to reintroduce Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights

December 23, 2018

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON - State Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, will reintroduce the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights, deemed Senate Bill 39, for the 2019 legislative session.

The legislation is patterned after federal law passed in 2016. Woelfel previously sponsored the bill in 2017 and 2018, when both times it passed unanimously in the state Senate but was never taken up by the House of Delegates.

The bill responds to challenges faced by rape survivors and establishes numerous rights for them, including:

n The right to a free medical forensic examination (many victims are charged for the procedure).

n The right to be informed of the results of the forensic exam.

n The right to have a person accompany them during the forensic medical exam. Woelfel explained, “The presence of a close family member, counselor or close friend can provide great comfort during this highly intrusive but critical medical procedure.”

n The right to have an assault evidence collection kit tested and preserved for up to 20 years.

n The right to a 60-day notice prior to the disposal of any evidence.

“This legislation will be of great assistance in navigating a most traumatic experience,” Woelfel said in a release. “Nearly 70 percent of survivors either do not report their rape or decline to press charges. I am hopeful this legislation will move that number downward.”

Last year, Woelfel sponsored Senate Bill 36, which guarantees protocols and timely processing of DNA rape kit evidence to the benefit of survivors, law enforcement and prosecutors. SB 36, which was signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice on March 27, ended the shelving of several thousand untested rape kits in West Virginia.

“Forensic rape kits would sit on the shelf 240 days on average,” Woelfel said. “This has been a great step forward for survivors, but it isn’t enough.”

Woelfel said he is optimistic the legislation will pass the Senate early in the 2019 session.

“In light of the current news surrounding the pervasiveness of sexual assault in our country, it is my belief that expanding protections and paths to justice for survivors of rape is more important than ever,” he said.

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