Charleston, W. Va. - In light of recent events, the West Virginia Women’s Caucus seeks to emphasize the importance of quickly and effectively reporting cases of sexual assault and abuse. Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, yet causes immense trauma in the life of a victim, especially for a child. It is important that a victim of this crime be cared for and actions be taken to prevent further occurrences.
West Virginia Code §49-6A-2 states that in any case where a reporter believes that a child suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, or sexual assault, the reporter must immediately report the case to the State Police. If a reporter is a member, staff, or volunteer at a public or private institution, school, or facility that provides organized children’s activities, they must also immediately report the case to the person in charge of that institution, school, or facility who may be able to provide more information on a report or cause additional reports to be made.
In addition to reporting a case of sexual assault, it is also necessary the victim seeks medical treatment. Even when injuries are not visible, it is possible they are still present. For victims whose cases are reported to law enforcement, a forensic medical exam should take place. This exam accesses the victim’s needs as well as collects evidence from the crime that can further aid the investigation. The forensic medical exam is very time-sensitive, as evidence quickly dissipates and may not be present after the victim bathes, washes, and/or urinates.
"It is of the upmost importance that all sexual assaults, rape, etc. be reported immediately to law enforcement so that the important DNA evidence can be obtained in a timely fashion. Any other reporting requirements should always be secondary to reporting to law enforcement,” said Delegate Lynne Arvon.
In 2014, legislators proposed The SANE bill, which would establish a state-wide system for sexual assault forensic examination services. The bill would create a commission that develops state standards for reporting and seeking medical examinations in cases of sexual assault. It would also create unification for the integrity used in these situations state-wide. The lead sponsor of this bill was Delegate Kelli Sobonya.
“We want all victims of these crimes to be treated equally, regardless of their geography,” said Sobonya. “Small town victims should be treated the same as those in urban areas.”
Lawmakers continue to look for ways they can improve standards and protocols for sexual assault crimes in West Virginia.
“We must establish a system that draws bright lines on protocols for reporting and follow through with rape kits being processed. No rape victim should have to live alone with this trauma. We all need to know our communities are there to protect them,” said Delegate Nancy Guthrie.
Sexual assault crimes can be difficult for children to discuss or report. It is important to remind a child that they are not at fault and they have your support. Delegate Linda Phillips emphasizes the importance of support at such times.
“Realizing that sexual assault is occurring more often at younger ages, the Women’s Caucus of the WV House wants to again state how important it is for the victim to report to the proper authorities, seek medical assistance ASAP both for their own well-being as well as for prosecution. And I encourage the victim to talk to a trusted adult for support in the times ahead.This obviously is a serious situation and I want everyone to take care of the victim first and foremost!”
More information on sexual assault and how to report such crimes can be found on the website for West Virginia’s Foundation for Rape Information and Services, www.fris.org.