Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights passes Senate again
CHARLESTON - For the third year, Sen. Mike Woelfel’s Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights unanimously passed the West Virginia Senate on Wednesday, and Woelfel said he is confident that the third time’s a charm.
Senate Bill 72 spells out the specific rights of sexual assault survivors as they move through what Woelfel calls a harsh but necessary process after a horrific event.
Those rights include:
n The right to a personal representative of the victim’s choice to accompany him or her to a hospital or health care facility and to attend proceedings concerning the alleged assault, including police interviews and court proceedings;
n The right to receive a forensic medical examination;
n The right to have a sexual assault evidence collection kit, often referred to as a rape kit, tested and preserved by law enforcement;
n The right to be informed by the investigating law enforcement agency of any result of rape kit testing, unless it would impede an investigation;
n The right to be informed in writing of the policies governing rape kit testing and preservation of evidence;
n The right to receive, upon written request, notification of disposal of evidence 60 days prior;
n The right, upon request, to have evidence preserved for an additional period of no more than 10 years; and
n The right to be informed of these rights.
Woelfel has introduced the bill for the past two years and it has passed the Senate easily, but the House of Delegates did not put the bill up for discussion. He said with the change in leadership in the House, he’s confident the bill will be taken up there, despite the lead sponsor being a Democrat.
“Our sexual assaults are so grossly under-reported,” Woelfel said. “West Virginia can be at the forefront of the trend of how we treat survivors.”
On the Senate floor, Woelfel called upon the Senate to restore funding for sexual assault crisis centers, such as Contact Rape Crisis Center in Huntington.
Last year, he said, the state spent $35 million to incarcerate sexual assault offenders, but only spent $125,000 for the crisis centers in the state. When cuts were made during tight budget years, crisis centers took a cut.
Rape crisis centers are open 24/7 for victims. They provide support, help a victim decide whether they want to file a report and help them through that process, and provide counseling services, along with providing sexual assault education.
He asked Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair to restore funding for crisis centers to 2012 levels of $600,000.
“I had a client, she was 66 years old and she told me she was raped when she was 14,” Woelfel said. “She told me every relationship she’s ever had has been affected by what happened when she was 14. That’s why these counseling services are so important.”
Last year, the Legislature passed Woelfel’s companion bill to the Bill of Rights, which aimed to speed up the rate of rape kit testing in the state.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.