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West Virginia legislator announces biills that seek to protect sexual assault survivors

The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, on Monday announced two bills enhancing protections for survivors of sexual assault to be introduced on the first day of the 2018 regular session. Together, the bills would ensure survivors in West Virginia receive timely and free access to medical forensic examinations and that proper DNA evidence is collected and preserved.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell

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

The bills, which were considered during the Legislature’s 2017 regular session, passed the Senate unanimously but were not taken up by the House Judiciary Committee and, therefore, did not come up for a full vote in the House of Delegates.

The first bill, modeled after the Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights passed by Congress in 2016, establishes numerous rights for assault survivors. These include a right to have a personal representative accompany a survivor to a health care facility for an examination, the right to have an assault evidence collection kit tested and preserved for up to 20 years, and the right to a 60-day notice prior to the disposal of any evidence.

To provide for the timely processing of evidence, a second bill would address the problem of assault evidence kits being shelved and going untested.

“The current backlog of untested kits is unacceptable and the prolonged wait is far too common for survivors in West Virginia,” Woelfel said.

This bill would mandate efficient time frames for kit testing and would outline rules governing the storage and preservation of DNA evidence.

“These bills address basic rights for survivors that will modernize our process, and I have every confidence that the Legislature will act swiftly to approve them,” he said.

A lawyer, Woelfel told The Herald-Dispatch in March he has represented sexual assault victims in more than 100 legal cases during the past six or seven years. He said he didn’t know how he could go to Charleston and not advocate for victims of sexual assault.

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