Senator Mike Woelfel (D-Cabell) is planning to introduce a pair of bills during the 2017 Regular Session that would enhance protections for victims of sexual assault. “Rape kits provide key evidence in sexual assault prosecutions. However, many are shelved or otherwise ignored to the dismay of victims,” Woelfel said.
The first piece of legislation is patterned after the Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights which passed Congress in September. Woelfel’s bill would ensure victims in West Virginia are offered a medical forensic examination for free (many are still charged for the procedure); are informed of its results; that evidence gathered is kept for 20 years and a survivor may request to be notified 60 days before her rape kit is destroyed.
While an essential first step, this legislation does not address another major roadblock to justice for sexual assault survivors: timely processing the evidence. “The collection and evaluation of rape kit evidence must be given priority. A one year testing backlog is routine and unacceptable,” Woelfel said.
To combat their shelving and to address several thousand untested rape kits in West Virginia, Woelfel and Sen. Bob Plymale (D-Wayne) will reintroduce Senate Bill 144. This legislation would mandate a time frame for testing, expand DNA sample collection to those convicted of a violent felony and assure preservation, submission and testing of DNA evidence.
According to Woelfel, “The current process is outdated, frustrates and disheartens victims, law enforcement and prosecutors.”