Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday formally signed four bills that supporters say will increase protections for victims of sexual assaults.
By Rachel Beatrice for Capital News Service
In a crowded room hosted by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, McAuliffe signed:
- Senate Bill 291 and House Bill 1160, which seek to ensure that rape evidence kits are tested promptly.
- SB 248, which will allow minors to consent to an evidence recovery examination over the objections of a parent or guardian – a critical option when the adult may be the perpetrator
- HB 1102, which aims to improve support and treatment for sexual assault survivors on college campuses
“The bills Gov. McAuliffe is signing today are truly game changers in the way Virginia treats survivors of sexual violence and the way we help them pursue justice,” Attorney General Mark Herring told the audience. “It is a long overdue overhaul of the way we conduct investigations and handle evidence.”
Last year, an audit by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science discovered that more than 2,300 rape kits remained untested – some dating to 1988, Herring said.
Sen. Richard Black, R-Leesburg, attended the signing ceremony. He sponsored SB 291.
“Suppression of violent crimes and especially of rape has been central to my career,” Black said. “And as the former head of the Pentagon’s Criminal Law Division, I will tell you that I am quite confident that SB 291 will save lives, and it will protect many, many women from sexual assault.”
The Virginia Department of Forensic Science currently processes more than 700 cases annually. McAuliffe said the new legislation would double the number of tests performed each year.
In addition, “the new state budget will include $900,000 annually to hire six new DNA examiners,” the governor said.
Herring said the goal is to address the current problem and prevent it from recurring. “Once we get the backlog cleared out, this new bill should ensure that Virginia never finds itself in that situation again.”
The new laws, which take effect July 1, also address situations in which the sexual assault survivor choses not to report the offense to law enforcement. In those circumstances, McAuliffe said, “The evidence will be stored for two years. For cases that are reported to law enforcement, the legislation requires that the evidence be sent for analysis within 60 days.”
Allowing rape kits to remain untested not only denies swift justice for the rape survivor but this also fails to protect other women.
“By linking cases together, you take the serial offenders off the street,” Black said. “The serial rapist is the person who poses the greatest danger – not only for rape but some of these people flip over into murder as we have seen with the Hannah Graham case.”
Graham was a University of Virginia student who disappeared in 2014. Last month, Jesse Matthew, a 34-year-old Charlottesville man, pleaded guilty to her murder. Previously, Matthew had been accused of sexual assault at two other Virginia colleges.
HB 1102 “will facilitate collaboration between the state agencies and campus law enforcement in the development of trauma-informed training to ensure the survivors of sexual assault receive the support and evidence-based treatment that they need,” McAuliffe said.
“The survivors of these malicious crimes are trusting in us to provide a full accounting of these cases and to bring the perpetrators to justice. They are entitled to our best efforts, and we are going to give them our best efforts.”