The West Virginia Senate has passed legislation that creates a sexual assault victims’ Bill of Rights. Other related legislation that would help victims is also being considered.
Senate Bill 39 seeks to codify best practices in the wake of a sexual assault. For example, the bill would allow victims to choose someone to accompany him or her to a hospital or other health care facility and to attend proceedings concerning the alleged assault, including police and prosecution interviews as well as court.
Sen. Mike Woelfel said the purpose of the bill is to modernize the way sexual assault victims are treated and hopes it encourages victims to come forward.
“I believe that in our state -- in virtually any state -- you have probably one out of three or four girls that is sexually abused in her lifetime -- and probably one out of seven boys. So, it's a grossly under reported crime,” Woelfel said.
Senate Bill 39 passed on a 33-0 vote and now heads to the House.
A companion measure, Senate Bill 36, seeks to expand DNA testing and streamlines the process of obtaining results. Sen. Woelfel, who is also the lead sponsor of that legislation, outlined some of the issues that brought about the bill.
“The rape kit, once it gets to the state police lab, sits there on average 440 days. So you can have -- frequently, if not commonly -- a two year delay between a rape and the evaluation of the evidence," Woelfel said. "Can you imagine how many sexual assault victims after two years have turned the page in their life? That's unacceptable.”
The Senate Health Committee is expected to be take up that bill.