House of Delegates passes bill to protect victims of child pornography

HB 1364 would close preliminary hearings to the public to protect victims’ privacy


Del. David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) said he endorses Democratic candidate Leslie Cockburn for the Fifth District Congressional seat.

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HB 1364 was passed unanimously by a block vote in the Virginia House of Delegates Feb. 2. The bill, introduced by Del. David Toscano (D-Charlottesville), would restrict members of the public from entering preliminary hearings for certain child pornography cases.

HB 1364 adds “child pornography offenses, use of a communications system to facilitate certain offenses involving children, and unlawful filming” to the list of offenses in which only essential personnel are permitted to witness preliminary hearings. 

Toscano drafted the bill after receiving a suggestion from Sgt. Aaron Hurd of the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office, who witnessed a court proceeding which involved pornographic images of a child survivor being visible to onlookers sitting above the judge.

As the pieces of evidence were under review of the judge, Hurd noticed that individuals in the upper balcony could have seen the images. Hurd said such images being viewed by unaffiliated parties could have further harmed the survivor. 

HB 1364 would prevent such an incident by allowing only involved parties into preliminary hearings, such as the complainant, the accused, and their respective attorneys and family members. 

Erin Monaghan, Toscano’s communications director, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the bill aims to reduce the emotional trauma inflicted upon victims of child pornography. 

“Delegate Toscano expects that if the bill is passed, it will help the court system to be able to protect survivors of child pornography from the emotional injury of having strangers with no connection to a case see evidence that doesn't need to be disclosed to the general public,” Monaghan said.

Monaghan said Toscano was optimistic that the bill would be passed in the Virginia Senate when it comes up for a vote in the near future. 

Sheri Owen, community outreach director for the Sexual Assault Resource Agency in Charlottesville, said the bill will eliminate a potential source of stress for survivors of child pornography.

“It can be really tough for anyone — but especially children — to relive what happened when they’re in court,” Owen said. “We want to support anything that’s going to be beneficial for the survivor. I think this bill is, because it makes all the preliminary hearings closed so it’s less anxiety on the survivor.”

Owen noted that survivors would still be allowed to bring in friends or family for support during preliminary hearings. 

The bill awaits review by the Senate Courts of Justice committee on Feb. 12. 

Since the bill was passed by a block vote in the House — meaning no members opposed it — it will likely pass through the Senate as well. 

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