Kaine Seeks To Toughen Abuse Laws
Better Treatment Of Victims a Priority
By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 3, 2008; B01
RICHMOND, Jan. 2 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said Wednesday that he will ask the General Assembly to toughen laws against sexual and domestic abuse and increase money for new and existing programs to prevent similar types of violence in Virginia.
Kaine's announcement was the first in a series over the next few days to unveil his priorities for the 60-day legislative session, which begins next Wednesday. Kaine's other top issues include restricting smoking in restaurants, expanding consumer protection programs and closing a loophole that allows unlicensed gun dealers or people making one-on-one sales, as is done at gun shows, to sell guns without conducting background checks.
Kaine (D) said he wanted to improve the treatment of sexual assault and domestic violence victims by spending an additional $450,000 a year on state crisis centers and almost $300,000 more a year on a federal prevention program. Virginia has 37 centers across the state, including facilities in Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties and in Alexandria and Leesburg.
"The General Assembly has done a really good job in the last few years focusing on the management of violent sexual offenders," Kaine said. "What this is about is now turning our attention to being better in how we treat victims of sexual assault and violence and making sure Virginia is doing what we need to do in that area."
Kaine said he wants to spare people who report being raped from having to take lie detector tests and to require courts to immediately process protective orders in civil abuse cases.
The proposal that could be the most controversial would prevent a man who has sexually assaulted a girl ages 14 to 16 from avoiding prosecution by offering to marry her.
A law allowing such a defense has been on the books for at least five decades, though it is rarely used. An 18-year-old man who has sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, for example, could be found guilty of sexual assault, and some lawmakers believe the man should have the option of marrying her.
For the first time since Kaine has been governor, control of the legislature will be split between Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House of Delegates.
House Republicans have challenged some of Kaine's legislative priorities in what is expected to be a tight budget year. But Kaine said he does not think the Republican majority will oppose his proposals, though he acknowledged the one involving men who use marriage as a shield against prosecution has been controversial in the past.
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said Wednesday that fighting sexual violence has been a top priority for the General Assembly in past years.
"It's always good to have ideas in this area," Griffith said. "It's a pretty good package. Whether we can afford it or not this year, I don't know."
One in 10 Virginia adults reports being the victim of rape or attempted rape, according to a 2005-06 survey by the state Department of Health. In a one-year period, 2.4 percent of Virginia adults reported being the victim of sexual violence, according to the survey. Experts say that only a fraction of those who have been assaulted report the crimes to police, making statistics unreliable.
Kaine made his announcement during a mid-morning news conference at Capitol Square, where he was joined by two dozen leaders from law enforcement, higher education and advocacy groups.
"Virginia has come a long way in how we treat and respond to victims of sexual crimes. I've seen it in my 27-plus years in law enforcement," said Lt. Col. Robert Northern, deputy superintendent of the Virginia State Police. "I'm very proud of these recommendations. I'm proud because it is the right thing to do."
Some of the proposals would bring Virginia into compliance with the federal Violence Against Women Act of 2005, which prohibits law enforcement agencies from requiring a victim to take a lie detector test. A 2004 state survey found that more than 70 percent of law enforcement agencies sometimes ask victims to do so. If it does not comply, Virginia will lose about $4.5 million in federal funds.
"This will help prevent the victims from being re-victimized as a result of the investigative process," Northern said. "That's the most important thing about this legislation."
Kaine's proposals are based on recommendations from the Governor's Commission on Sexual Violence, appointed in November 2006 to advise him on preventing crimes and improving the treatment of victims.
The panel included 37 sexual assault survivors, law enforcement officials, advocates and legislators from both parties. It made 27 recommendations, including increasing funding for state crisis centers by $2.3 million. The centers helped more than 10,000 victims in 2007, and Kaine's proposed $450,000 is expected to pay for the treatment of 1,000 additional people.
Kristine Hall of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, a statewide coalition, called the overall legislative package "responsive to systemic barriers and areas of need identified by victims of sexual violence, local experts on the field, as well as others across the state."
Researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.