For Immediate Release: April 14, 2016
Contacts: Office of the Governor: Brian Coy, Brian.Coy@governor.virginia.gov

Governor Signs Legislation Enhancing Protections for Victims of Sexual Assault

 

RICHMOND – Governor Terry McAuliffe signed Senate Bill 291 and House Bill 1160, which establish procedures for handling evidence kits in sexual assaults.

An audit last year by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science discovered nearly 3,000 untested physical evidence recovery kits, or perks, in the custody of law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth. Most were related to sexual assault and rape cases.

“From day one, the health and safety of Virginia’s women has been a chief priority of our administration. That is why I created and enabled a group of leaders and advocates to offer solutions to enhance the services and protections this Commonwealth offers to survivors of sexual violence," said Governor McAuliffe. “The survivors of these malicious crimes are trusting in us to provide a full accounting of these cases and to bring perpetrators to justice. To ensure their safety, it is vital that we have all areas of law enforcement, government, and private organizations working together.  The measures signed today provide a permanent and coherent solution for that process."

Last year the Governor convened a workgroup led by Secretary Moran that included the First Lady, advocates for survivors and law enforcement to recommend a consistent process for handling and testing these kits in a timely manner now and in the future.

"It is our responsibility to provide certainty and protect evidence for those who have been victims of sexual violence,” said First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe.

“The bills Governor McAuliffe has signed are gamechangers in the way Virginia treats survivors of sexual violence and the way we help them pursue justice,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Our work on the Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence focused on college and university campuses, but so many of our recommendations have a much broader application because they seek to ensure a comprehensive, coordinated, survivor-centered approach to addressing this issue. We will always stand with survivors as they pursue justice and continue on a path towards healing.”

The legislation is expected to double the number of tests performed each year and includes a process for survivors to request information on the status and results of the tests. To handle the increase in tests, the new state budget includes $900,000 annually to hire six new DNA examiners. A portion of those funds will be used in the first year to outsource testing when feasible while the new staff members are trained.

“I’m so proud to have sponsored a bill that will reduce the trauma of survivors by developing training for law enforcement,” said Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn. “The Department of Criminal Justice services and SHEV working together will greatly improve the lives of survivors of sexual assault.”

The Governor also signed two additional measures affirming his support for the health and safety of Virginia’s women. Senate Bill 248 enables a minor to consent to an evidence recovery examination over the objections of a parent or guardian, a critical option in cases where the adult may be the perpetrator. House Bill 1102 facilitates collaboration between state agencies and campus law enforcement in the development of trauma-informed training to ensure that survivors of sexual assault receive the support and evidence-based treatment they need.

“As former Chief of the Criminal Law Division at the Pentagon, I know that SB291 will insure that serial rapists are effectively identified and prosecuted,” said Senator Dick Black. “I appreciate the work of Dorothy McAuliffe on the Task Force that helped draft this legislation, Governor McAuliffe and Secretary Moran and the bi-partisan support of my colleagues in the Senate and House.  This effort began as the result of advocates with the Natasha Project and I know they are pleased with the outcome today.”

 

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