Proposed bill to require campus police to report sexual assault to commonwealth attorney

Democrats, republicans support bill

delegate

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, proposed House Bill 1343 Dec. 1 which, if passed, would require university campus police or local law enforcement to report sexual assault cases to their local commonwealth attorneys within 48 hours of notice of the incident.

The delegate’s office said the primary purpose of the bill is to involve more parties in the sexual assault reporting process in hopes of creating more transparency within the process. The commonwealth attorney would oversee the subsequent investigation.

“My hope is that as these bills go forward there is discussion and consideration of how these things will play out,” Weybright said. “The law enforcement can definitely work to support survivors and I think there needs to be a comprehensive look at how this could impact the whole system.”

Filler-Corn held a press conference Tuesday to discuss the bill.

“Sexual assault — whether its between strangers, people dating, on private property or on school campuses — requires a serious response from the police and the prosecutors,” Filler-Corn said. “I think what this bill does is provide victims the opportunity to have confidential conversations with adults and move forward.”

Filler-Corn said the bill has received support from sexual assault victims, law enforcement, several commonwealth attorneys and advocacy groups. The families of past sexual assault victims Morgan Harrington and Alexis Murphy were also present at the the press conference Tuesday in support of the bill.

“This legislation is geared toward restoring victim’s faith in the system,” Filler-Corn said. “By getting the commonwealth attorney involved, we can ensure the investigation is promptly pursued, and the victims are given the resources they need.”

Rebecca Weybright, executive director of the Charlottesville Sexual Assault Resource Agency, said the bill may negatively impact sexual assault victims.

“It might do nothing, because the commonwealth attorney might not be interested in prosecuting,” Weybright said. “But if they are interested in prosecuting, it might take the control of that away from the survivor and into the hands of the attorney.”

Weybright said she would caution legislators to be mindful of the well-being of the survivors involved in these cases.

“I come very strongly from a victim or survivor advocate point of view,” Weybright said, “So what I would want to make sure [is] that any legislative action is potentially better for the survivor in that situation.”

Weybright suggested including an educational element in the bill to help safeguard against any further trauma for the sexual assault victim. She suggested such a program for commonwealth attorneys to ensure they are prepared for involvement in such cases.

“What I would want overall is to make sure that these bills might provide education for the criminal justice system to ensure that they are equipped to handle these situations,” Weybright said. “I don’t want to see survivors retraumatized or revictimized.”

Weybright said she is particularly concerned that the bill may dissuade victims from reporting sexual assault to both campus police members and university faculty out of fear their case will be prosecuted.

“That’s why I think that it’s important that there’s education provided,” Weybright said. “I don’t want survivors to feel like they can’t tell campus personnel or the police.”

Despite her concerns, Weybright said law enforcement could play a valuable role in the sexual assault reporting process.

“My hope is that as these bills go forward, there is discussion and consideration of how these things will play out,” Weybright said. “The law enforcement can definitely work to support survivors and I think there needs to be a comprehensive look at how this could impact the whole system.”

Filler-Corn said the bill is garnering bipartisan support, most notably from Del. David Albo, R-Springfield, chairman of the Courts of Justice Committee and now co-patron of the bill.

“When it comes to solving serious problems for Virginia citizens, delegate Eileen Filler-Corn — a Democrat, and I, a Republican — don't care about politics or party affiliation,” Albo said.

Albo said regardless of the circumstances and situation, sexual assault is a pressing issue that the state must confront.

“Delegate Filler-Corn's bill ensures that allegations of sexual assaults on college campuses will receive the same level of attention by police and prosecutors that off campus sexual assaults receive,” he said.

Filler-Corn is confident the bill will pass due to the new heightened level of awareness surrounding sexual assault. She had previously tried passing a similar bill in 2012 but was unsuccessful.

“[The] timing of this bill is right,” Filler-Corn said. “We shouldn’t be afraid to share information. We all want the same thing.”

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