Delegate Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, has introduced a bill that could make it easier for victims of sexual assault to see their cases through the justice system.
The legislation, known as House Bill 489, would require campus and local law enforcement agencies to store physical evidence gathered after a sexual assault for a minimum of two years. For minors, evidence would be kept for at least two years after the victim turns 18.
Virginia doesn’t have a statute of limitation for filing sexual assault charges. But McClellan says that victims often don’t immediately decide to pursue prosecution, and that evidence should be available in case victims change their minds.
“It’s very difficult for a victim of a crime to decide in a moment whether they want to move forward in a prosecution,” she says. “It’s very important to make sure evidence is collected and maintained so when they have time to think about coming forward, you have it there.”
The bill comes after a recommendation from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence, which McAuliffe ordered to be created in August 2014. A task force report also says that longer evidence storage would aid in the prosecution of serial sexual assault cases, and that most incidences of sexual assault are committed by repeat offenders.
The task force also determined that law enforcement agencies should have enough room to meet the proposed minimum storage requirement. A report issued last year by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science found that state law enforcement agencies possessed 2,369 unprocessed physical evidence recovery kits. But this number also includes evidence collected in incidences of elder or child abuse, dog bites and other crimes.
University officials in Virginia have long been under fire for botching efforts to follow through with the investigation and prevention of sexual assault. The issue made international headlines after Rolling Stone published a story about rape allegations at the University of Virginia. It was later retracted because of inconsistencies in the account of the incident.
Last year, McAuliffe also signed legislation that requires campuses to report incidences of felony sexual assault to local prosecutors within 48 hours from the start of an investigation.