CHARLESTON - West Virginia Legislators and Rape Crisis advocates gathered with Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to announce that West Virginia is “going sane” in a recent ceremony in Fairmont commemorating the effective date of new legislation establishing a regulatory system for sexual assault forensic examinations.
SANE is an acronym for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. As a result of passage of the new law, a statewide commission has been created to improve the training and recruitment of SANEs and other qualified health professionals so that sexual assault forensic evidence is properly collected.
“Rape cases differ from other criminal assaults because the evidence to be collected that must be taken from the victim’s body,” said Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, lead sponsor of the original House bill. “There have been problems getting convictions because qualified, sensitive personnel have not been available late at night, especially in rural areas. This bill sets up a system to increase the availability of SANEs so they can be there when they are needed.” she said.
In testimony before Legislative committees, rape crisis center advocates reported that victims sometimes had to travel from hospital to hospital seeking examiners to collect the forensic evidence. Those delays and problems with improper data collection prevented the justice system from punishing some offenders.
The Foundation for Rape Information Services (FRIS), headquartered in Fairmont, coordinates sexual assault advocacy services statewide. FRIS worked with State Police, Prosecutors and the West Virginia Hospital Association on the legislation, which includes requirements for local and statewide planning and oversight to ensure more timely, and uniform availability of medical care for rape victims.
FRIS State Coordinator Nancy Hoffman explained that the new legislation will require each County, under the leadership of the Prosecutor, to establish a plan to get every victim of sexual assault a timely forensic exam at a nearby facility. Each local plan must be approved by the state-wide Commission.
“The state Sexual Assault Examination Commission is scheduled to meet in early August to set standards for local boards to ensure compliance with the new law, including minimum training requirements,” said Hoffman. “The state-wide Board may also facilitate transportation services for victims and develop a data collection system to monitor that victims receive the proper standard of care.”
Advocates for the legislation worked to achieve passage of the bill for over ten years. “It has been kind of maddening getting so close to passing the bill for the past couple of years,” Hoffman observed, “so we think the “West Virginia Goes Sane” slogan describes what the bill will do and reflects the process we’ve been through.”
This year, the bill passed both Houses during the regular session but could not be enacted due to a technical flaw. “Now, with the assistance of our Legislators and thanks to Governor Tomblin for putting the bill on the agenda of a special session, West Virginia is positioned to fully address the forensic needs of all sexual assault victims,” Hoffman said.