WV Senate passes first sexual assault bill

As more sexual assault victims have come forward in Hollywood and now in the sporting world with the conviction of Dr. Larry Nassar, the state of West Virginia is looking to help victims closer to home.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, sponsors Senate Bill 39, which looks to help sexual assault victims by making their rights clearer.

“It’s a step toward modernizing the way we treat rape victims,” Woelfel said. “As the law has been, we treat them rather shabbily and unfairly.”

Woelfel said the bill is in tandem with Senate Bill 36, which helps to ensure the procedure of rape kits and addresses rape kit testing. Woelfel said he hopes this forces rape and sexual assault cases to be treated as a high priority.

“Priorities haven’t really been in line with the fact that rape is a violent offense that is life changing,” Woelfel said. “I’ve represented over 100 women who have been sexually abused in the jails in West Virginia by guards, so I’ve seen firsthand how rape victims have been treated in a very caviler fashion in this state.”

Woelfel said first and foremost his concern is for the victims of sexual assault, and he hopes this bill will encourage victims to come forward and seek justice.

“Sexual assault occurs everywhere, in all facets of society,” Woelfel said. “No one is immune from being victimized by sexual abuse. It’s the most underreported crime there is. This bill is intended to make the process more victim-friendly and with the hope that more people who are rape victims will come forward and seek justice.”

The bill has passed the West Virginia Senate unanimously and now moves on to the House of Delegates.

Kyra Biscarner can be contacted at [email protected]