Emily Rice Published

Sexual Violence Awareness Advocates Ask Legislators To Change Existing Laws

A turquoise tablecloth drapes a table laden with pamphlets and memorabilia with helpful information about handling sexual assault.
Advocates from across the state gathered at the state capitol Thursday to bring attention to sexual violence.
Will Price/WV Legislative Photography

It was Sexual Violence Awareness Day at the Capitol. The Foundation for Rape Information and Services, or FRIS, was there to educate legislators and the public about problems in the system.

Nikki Godfrey, the assistant state coordinator with FRIS, said the organization is focused on two issues this legislative session: updating the offense definition of extortion and exemptions for marital rape.

Senate Bill 175 updates offenses of extortion and attempted extortion. 

“Which provides additional protection for if folks say a student is being told that they can’t get their grade unless they do a sexual favor for a professor,” Godfrey said. “So there’s just a gap in our code, when we’re looking at coercion, and being able to provide that protection for an individual.”

House Bill 4982 would remove marriage from the definitions listed for crimes of sexual offenses.

“The other one has been the talk of the town the last year, and that’s really just providing equal protection for individuals who are married in our state,” Godfrey said. “So right now, our definition of sexual contact says that it can’t be protection for folks who are married. So if someone forces or threatens or, you know, says there’s bodily harm possible, and they engage in sexual contact with someone, it could be charged, but not if the person is married.”

Godfrey said there was a lot of confusion surrounding marital rape during last year’s legislative session.

“I think last year, there were just a lot of misconceptions around it and confusion about what that meant, you know, how that affects people who are married,” Godfrey said. “And you know, when we look at forcible compulsion, there has to be a threat of bodily injury. So it rises to the level that you know, if someone can report that it could be investigated and charged.”

Godfrey said after conversations with lawmakers in the upper rotunda, FRIS is feeling hopeful.

“I really feel like just addressing some of the misconceptions and providing some examples to folks of what that could look like and why it is important to individuals in West Virginia to add that protection,” Godfrey said. “So I feel like that folks are really understanding and hearing it.”

On the Senate floor, Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, spoke in favor of designating Feb. 1 as Sexual Violence Awareness Day.

“West Virginia ranks fifth in the country for lifetime prevalence of contact sexual violence, 61.7 percent are females,” Rucker said. “Out of the 47 percent of assaults committed by acquaintances in West Virginia, 82 percent are by someone known by that victim a direct relationship to that victim in West Virginia, one in six women and one in 21 men will be victims of attempted or attempted or completed sexual assault.”