The Charleston Gazette Mail
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While several bills meant to support victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence were successful during the 2017 legislative session, several that were supported by advocates and passed the Senate died in the House Judiciary Committee.
The following lists include summaries of bills considered during the session that would have affected victims and perpetrators, whether they passed or failed, and some of the organizations lobbying for the legislation.
The list is not exhaustive; thousands of bills are introduced each year. But it does include some of the bills that were watched closely by victim advocacy groups in West Virginia.
Joyce Yedlosky, team coordinator at the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, noted the coalition is also keeping a close eye on the state budget, not only because it wants to keep its own funding intact, but because many of its clients rely on social services.
As far as protection from abusers, “On those issues, I believe it was a good session,” Yedlosky said. “On the broader social justice issues, it was not so much of a win.”
The coalition was also watching three other bills that disproportionately affect women that passed, including House Bill 2002, on parental notification of abortion; House Bill 2509, which in its final form banned health care providers from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs via telemedicine; and House Bill 2646, terminating the state Women’s Commission.
Bills that passed
House Bill 2318, on human trafficking.
This bill, which advocates have supported for several years, was lengthy. Among other things, the law allows prosecutors to pursue charges against traffickers who have only one victim. Current law requires two or more victims for prosecution.
The law also increased penalties and added several new protections for victims, requiring that: courts order convicted persons to pay restitution to the victim, victims not be denied eligibility for victims compensation funds solely for failure to report to law enforcement, law enforcement report to the Department of Health and Human Resources when a minor appears to be a victim, minors who are trafficked cannot be held criminally liable for an offense of prostitution and victims be allowed to petition a court for expungement.
Jim McKay, state coordinator of Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia, and Yedlosky, of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said their organizations supported this bill.
Senate Bill 240, creating a crime of nonconsensual distribution of sexual images.
This bill was supported by the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services, was passed by the Legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.
In some cases, abusers seek to exploit and harm current or former partners by disseminating intimate images. Twenty-six states and Washington, D.C., already had laws governing this crime.
The West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence surveyed advocates and prosecutors and found there were “gaps and loopholes,” Yedlosky said.
Police and prosecutors were able to seek charges only in some cases, such as if the victim was a minor, the photos were taken involuntarily, or the perpetrator demanded money or made other threats.
Senate Bill 445, adding child conceived of rape to the definition of child abuse/neglect.
Supported by the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, this bill was signed by the governor and will be in effect 90 days after passage, which was March 17.
This bill allows a rape victim to use child abuse and neglect court proceedings to terminate the parental rights of the rapist.
House Bill 2404, barring persons convicted of financial exploitation from acquiring property from their victims.
This bill, supported by the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, passed the Legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.
Senate Bill 256, addresses a problem identified by the Task Force on the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.
The bill brings West Virginia into compliance with a federal law, passed in 2015, and prohibits “school personnel who have engaged in sexual misconduct with students or minors from being assisted to find new employment,” McKay said.
Bills that failed
Senate Bill 69, sponsored by Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, creating a sexual assault survivors’ bill of rights and supported by the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence and West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services.
The bill was modeled after a federal law, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, signed by former President Barack Obama in October 2016.
The bill would have given survivors of sexual violence the right to request notification before rape kits are destroyed; the right for advocates to accompany them to the hospital for forensic examinations; the right to be informed by law enforcement of the results of the examinations, assuming that would not hurt the investigation; the right to be notified if evidence is about to be destroyed; and the right to have that evidence preserved for another 10 years upon written request.
The bill died in the House Judiciary Committee.
Senate Bill 167, Woelfel said the bill set a timeline for forensic rape testing and required a DNA sample to be taken from anyone committed of a violent felony.
“These bills modernize the manner in which we treat sexual assault victims,” he said. “April is Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Month. Shameful that no action was taken.”
“Some states are mandating all reported sex crime kits be tested, which … could help address serial rapists and hold offenders accountable,” said Nancy Hoffman, state coordinator for the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services. “SB 167, which didn’t pass, would have given the SAFE Commission the authority to promulgate legislative rules to address that issue.”
“Obviously the Legislature had some big issues to tackle — and still does — but we had hoped that with two bills by Sen. Woelfel introduced at the beginning of the session that would benefit sexual assault victims — and no cost to the state in passing them — that they wouldn’t languish in committee,” she added. The bill died in the House Judiciary Committee.
House Bill 2106, creating a domestic violence registry for domestic violence felons and supported by the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, died in the House Judiciary Committee.
House Bill 2655, defining and establishing the crime of cyberbullying and supported by the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, died in the House Judiciary Committee.
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In 2015, the West Virginia Legislature passed Erin Merryn’s Law, which created a Task Force on the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. Some other states, in their version of Erin’s Law, mandated sexual violence prevention programming in schools. West Virginia chose to create a task force to study the issue instead.
Jim McKay, of Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia, said the task force is still finalizing recommendations.
Senate Bill 288, “Emmaleigh’s Law,” which was introduced after a 10-month-old girl died after she was sexually assaulted in Jackson County, increased the penalty for death by child abuse to 15 years to life. None of the organizations contacted listed a stance on the bill.
Reach Erin Beck at 304-348-5163,
or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.
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