OHIO COUNTY, W.Va. (WTRF)
A roundtable discussion Monday at the Ohio County Public Library brought these issues to the attention of state lawmakers from this area.
State funding is inadequate for forensic exams of victims—and for training more examiners, according to sexual assault response professionals.
“The lack of funding has been incredibly problematic for vital supports that they (victims) need,” said Kate Stewart of Harmony House Advocacy Center.
“If we can increase that so that more hospitals will be providing the services and they can be reimbursed more fairly I think those will be beneficial changes to make,” said Del. Erikka Storch, R-Ohio County. “
And West Virginia is one of the few states that still has a “marital exception” for sexual abuse.
As one person explained, if you were dating the man, he could be charged; if you were married to him, he couldn’t.
“West Virginia is unfortunately an anomaly with having that exemption in the law,” said Stewart. “The rest of the nation is much more progressive.”
They said West Virginia has an anti-stalking law, but oddly, the word “stalking” is never mentioned.
And anti-sextortion legislation hasn’t yet passed the legislature.
That would protect against “sextortion” which is someone in a position of power, such as a teacher or a police officer, demanding sex.
“Meaning that they may withhold a grade or they may threaten a ticket or jail time if the victim doesn’t provide some type of act,” explained Ashley Williams, Sexual Assault Help Center victim advocate for Brooke and Hancock counties.
One attorney noted that while the victim is protected by law from the perpetrator, a witness does not have the same protection from, a perpetrator who threatens violence.
One advocate said West Virginia can do better.
“I would like to see West Virginia be more progressive because it’s a beautiful state,” said Williams. “People should definitely want to be here. But unfortunately our laws make it impossible for people to stay safe in West Virginia.”