- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — Several of Gov. Tim Kaine’s initiatives concerning sexual assault victims won unanimous legislative approval yesterday.

One measure would close the “marriage offer” loophole that gives men who sexually attack girls ages 14 to 16 a defense against criminal charges if they offer to marry the victim.

Another would require that the state pay for forensic medical examinations on sexual assault victims. Prosecutors now have the option of reimbursing the victim for the exam, which can cost up to $800, only if she agrees within 48 hours to prosecute.

Legislators also passed legislation requiring courts to immediately add protective orders issued in civil cases for abused spouses into a state police database. It currently takes up to 3½ days to enter the information into the database so that officers can begin enforcing the protective orders.

Other proposals, including eliminating the requirement that sexual assault victims take lie detector tests and requiring local law-enforcement agencies to have written policies concerning sexual assault victims, are making their way through the legislature.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, had said the outdated laws tormented sexual assault victims and put the state at risk of losing $4.5 million in federal money because they violate the Violence Against Women Act that Congress passed in 2005.

“The governor is very pleased that these things are moving forward,” Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey said.

The bills now go to Mr. Kaine for his signature.

Victims advocates applauded the bipartisan work on the legislation, but said much more needs to be done.

“It is certainly our hope that the governor will continue working on these issues,” said Ruth Micklem of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. “This is just scratching the surface.”

One in four women will suffer sexual assault in her lifetime, Miss Micklem said. For men, the number is about one in eight.

Miss Micklem said perhaps one of the most important changes is eliminating the requirement that sexual assault victims pay for forensic exams unless they agree to cooperate with prosecutors. The physical evidence recovery kit, or PERK, examinations gather and preserve physical evidence of rape.

She also stressed the importance of having officers trained on the law changes.

“When you’re making any major change, particularly around PERK and the polygraph, this helps to ensure local law-enforcement agencies actually are implementing those new laws and that the practice reflects the policy, which is very often the problem,” she said.

Miss Micklem said she would like to see more funding for sexual violence victims services and for training local law-enforcement officers.

Mr. Kaine proposed an additional $900,000 over the next two years for Virginia’s 37 sexual assault crisis centers, which treated more than 10,000 victims last year. Funding for the centers has not increased in a decade. He also asked in his budget for an additional $576,000 for a project to prevent domestic and sexual violence.

The House and Senate must finish work on their respective versions of the budget today.

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