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Virginia House Democrats Enhance Rights for Victims of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

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From the VA House Democratic Caucus:

Virginia House Democrats Enhance Rights for Victims of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

RICHMOND, VA—July 1 marks the implementation of new laws protecting victims or preventing cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking.

“I have long been committed to protecting and supporting victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking in Virginia,” said Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn. “I am proud that laws passed during the 2020 General Assembly session will provide significant aid to victims of these unfathomable crimes. While we have indeed made great progress, we continue our fight to support these brave Virginians and stop these crimes from happening in our Commonwealth.”

Protective measures include prohibiting persons subject to protective orders from possessing firearms, requiring colleges and universities to grant disciplinary immunity from self-disclosed alcohol and drug violations for victims and bystanders who report sexual assaults, informing localities and local immigration organizations of human trafficking risks to which immigrants may be more vulnerable, and adding coaches and adults involved with public sports programs to the list of mandatory reporters for suspected child abuse and neglect.

“Our legal code should offer a clearer path of justice for victims of heinous crimes involving sexual assault, violence, and exploitation,” said House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring, who served as the patron for HB 1006 which changes guidelines for questioning minors who may be victims of human trafficking. “I am proud of how House Democrats used the majority to stand up for Virginians who have suffered unspeakable pain, while also trying to prevent new tragedies from happening — especially ones that involve children.”

House Democrats also used the 2020 historic legislative session, where they held the majority for the first time in more than 20 years, to complete the ratification process for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Earlier this year, eight female House Democrats advocated for the ERA in a Washington Post op-ed, stating that a “constitutional prohibition barring sex discrimination will provide additional impetus for police departments and prosecutors to test kits promptly, as continued failure to pursue evidence could be litigated as systemic sex discrimination because the vast majority of reported assaults are committed against women.”

In addition, House Democrats successfully enacted new protections for women, racial minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community, especially in the arena of discrimination and hate crimes, which also go into effect on July 1.

“We must look to address physical and sexual violence as we look for ways to create positive, sweeping change in the Commonwealth,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan. “House Democrats focused this session on looking out for Virginians who have routinely been overlooked legislatively by past General Assemblies. These bills are a product of that mission — they aim to help victims find justice, receive emotional, physical, and mental support, and be able to speak up for themselves.”

Here is the summary of the major legislation from House Democrats dealing with victims’ rights, which go into effect on July 1:

Sexual Abuse and Assault

  • HB 298 increases the statute of limitations for certain misdemeanor sexual offenses where the victim was a minor from a year after the victim turns 18 to five years after the victim turns 18. The offender must have been an adult at the time of the offense and more than three years older than the victim. Delegate Kathy Tran sponsored the bill.
  • HB 752 clarifies that offenders who knowingly fail to register, re-register, or provide truthful information when registering to the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry may be subject to additional jail time. This bill was filed by Delegate Jay Jones.
  • HB 808 requires hospitals in Virginia to provide specific treatment or transfer services to sexual assault survivors, and allows pediatric health care facilities to adopt such treatment or transfer service plans, which will be approved by the Virginia Department of Health. The bill also creates a taskforce aimed at developing improved services for victims of sexual assault. Delegate Karrie Delaney introduced HB 808, which delays the effective date for hospitals to implement approved plans until July 1, 2023, to allow time for the Board to adopt regulations governing review and approval of such plans.
  • HB 870 installs a new 10-year statute of limitations for civil cases for personal injury resulting from sexual abuse, where the cause of action accrues on July 1, 2020, or afterwards. This law does not affect existing law enforcing a 20-year statute of limitations for initiating a suit for injuries sustained from sexual abuse during the infancy or incapacity of such person. Delegate Jeffrey Bourne served as the patron for HB 870.
  • HB 904 adds coaches and all adults employed by or volunteering with a public sports program to the list of mandatory reporters for suspected child abuse and neglect. Delegate Cliff Hayes filed this legislation.
  • HB 913 requires colleges and universities in the Commonwealth, except for the Virginia Military Institute, to include in mandatory sexual violence policies a provision for immunity from disciplinary action for personal consumption of alcohol or drugs when disclosed in conjunction with a good faith report of an act of sexual violence. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that 90 percent of campus sexual assaults go unreported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests colleges and universities grant immunity for drug or alcohol policy violations to victims and bystanders in order to remove barriers to reporting sexual assault. Delegate Dan Helmer sponsored the bill.

Domestic Violence

  • HB 99 mandates that landlords take in consideration otherwise qualified applicants with low credit scores who have been victims of family abuse. The applicants must establish their status as a victim by showing a letter from appropriate professionals or groups, a police report, or court order. Landlords who do not consider such evidence may be responsible for damages incurred by the applicant in the application process and their attorney fees. Delegate Sam Rasoul served as the patron for this bill.
  • HB 241 removes the requirement for a person seeking protected voter status to file a complaint with a magistrate or law enforcement in cases where the applicant is fearful of their safety or has been stalked. The requirement for a signed written statement from the applicant remains in place. Delegate Mark Sickles introduced HB 241.
  • HB 1004 makes it a Class 6 felony for someone subject to a protective order to knowingly possess a firearm. The law will give 24 hours for a person covered by a protective order to sell or transfer their gun, and requires the subject to certify that they do not, or no longer, possess firearms within 48 hours. Judges can exercise contempt power for failure to comply with the certification requirement. Virginia currently does not prevent persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic-violence offenses from purchasing or possessing firearms. When an abuser has access to firearms, the risk of intimate partner homicide increases by 400 percent. Delegate Mike Mullin was the patron of HB 1004.
  • HB 1181 allows the prosecution for violation of a protective order to be done in the jurisdiction where the violation occurred or where the order was issued. Delegate Vivian Watts filed the legislation.

Human Trafficking

  • HB 1006 allows local departments of social services to question alleged child victims of human trafficking or their siblings without the presence of such child’s or siblings’ parent, guardian, legal custodian or other person standing in loco parentis, or school personnel. The law also changes the legal terminology from “sex trafficking assessments” to “human trafficking assessments.” House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring sponsored HB 1006.
  • HB 1209 creates the Office of New Americans within the Department of Social Services and the Office of New Americans Advisory Board to aid the economic, social, and cultural integration of immigrants in Virginia. The Office is tasked, among other duties, with providing information to localities and immigration service organizations about unlawful predatory action to which immigrant groups may be particularly vulnerable, including human trafficking. The advisory board will make recommendations for improving state policies and programs supporting the integration of new Americans to the Governor and General Assembly in its annual report. Del. Tran introduced HB 1209.