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In Session: Virginia Assembly Briefs
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In Session: Virginia Assembly Briefs

Storing Evidence

The backlog of untested rape kits has received a lot of media attention in recent years, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been working to find ways to process all that evidence. But that’s not the only problem with rape kits.

Many of them are them are simply thrown away.

Del. Mark Levine (D-45) is pushing legislation that would force law-enforcement officials to keep more rape kits for longer periods of time. One particular target of the bill is child victims of sexual assault. Under current law, the rape kit is thrown away when the child turns 20. Levine’s bill would extend that to 10 years after the child becomes an adult.

“By the time a young person is 28 years old, I think they have both the financial wherewithall and perhaps as importantly the emotional wherewithal to be able to say OK I’m ready to prosecute,” said Levine. “Maybe they’ve had some therapy to go through what happened to them as young person.”

Another target of the bill is victims of sexual assault who are not yet ready to prosecute in the immediate aftermath of the crime. Levine’s bill would force law-enforcement officials to hold evidence for 10 years. Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol, who worked with Levine to craft the bill, says this will provide some much-needed time for victims to work though trauma before moving through a difficult legal process.

“Being able to hold out a decision, and hold out the evidence while a survivor is able to work through some of the trauma that he or she has experienced,” said Cristol, "that’s more likely to lead to not only a healing outcome for that survivor but greater public safety for all of us.”

Levine's bill passed the House this week with unanimous support.

Porn Hazard

Republican Del. Bob Marshall (R-13) wants Virginia to declare pornography a public health hazard, and he has the backing of the vast majority of House members. During a debate on the merits of porn, Marshall quoted from a number of articles and studies that raise alarms about the increasing availability of online smut.

“Fifty six percent of divorce cases involved one party having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites," said Marshall.

But that wasn’t all, Marshall said. He quoted experts and offered statistics. He named publications and offered sources of further information for those who were interested in learning more. After a few minutes, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle started waving papers in the air, a cheeky tradition in the House that’s the equivalent of waving the white flag. They’d heard enough and they were ready to vote.

“I would urge members to vote against this,” said Del. Paul Krizek (D-44). “My constituents don’t have this problem.”

That crack elicited a lengthy round of laughter in the House chamber. Nevertheless, the bill passed with an overwhelming majority. Only eight House members voted against it.

“It’s just the dumbest thing,” said Krizek after the vote. "Look, the reason it was 91 to 8 is because nobody wants to run against somebody else who puts in their brochure ‘oh you’re for pornography.’ But I think it’s up to people to have their choice.”

Beloved Redux

Should parents get a warning every time their children read a sexually explicit book in the classroom? That was a question debated last year, after a Fairfax County parent raised alarm bells over the Toni Morrison classic “Beloved.” The General Assembly passed a bill that would have required warnings for sexually explicit content in the classroom, although Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed it.

This year, Republicans are back at it again. And they have a different strategy. This year, they want to target any book that features sexual assault or rape — as defined by the criminal code of Virginia.

“I take offense too to the individual parents that were concerned about this — that you describe them as individuals who want to ban books when that’s just not true,” said Del. Steve Landes (R-25).

Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49) says the end result of the bill would be censorship.

“Would a trip to the National Gallery of Art require a warning to parents that many Greek and Roman sculptures depict sexual assaults?” asked Lopez. "Are we saying that history and civics classes would not be able to discuss the real problem of war crimes involving rape?”

The bill passed the House this week, although the governor is already threatening a veto — if it gets through the Senate.