Proposed Va. legislation pushes for changes to campus sexual assault investigations

Kelsey Callahan
Capital News Service

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) has bi-partisan support on her proposed bill mandating that law enforcement report incidents of sexual assault on campuses to the commonwealth’s attorney within 48 hours. Photo courtesy of VCU Capital News Service

A state legislator from Northern Virginia is urging her colleagues to pass a bill requiring institutions to promptly report campus sexual assaults to the local commonwealth’s attorney, instead of campus and local police handling such cases independently.

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn’s (D-Fairfax) proposed legislation would allow campus and local law enforcement authorities 48 hours after receiving an initial report of a sexual assault on a college campus to notify the commonwealth’s attorney.

“By getting the commonwealth’s attorney involved, it’ll make sure that the investigation is properly pursued and victims are given the resources that they need,” Filler-Corn said at a press conference on the eve of the start of the General Assembly’s 2015 session.

Filler-Corn emphasized that the measure would only take effect after a victim reports a sexual assault. She added that she strongly believes that it should still be the victim’s choice whether to report the crime.

Thus far, the bill has bipartisan support. The chief patrons are Filler-Corn and Delegate David Albo (R-Springfield). A dozen other delegates are also co-sponsoring the measure.

The parents of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student who disappeared from a concert at U.Va. in 2009 and was later found dead, attended the Jan. 13 news conference in support of the bill.

“We are here today to support the victims of sexual assault and to make sure that students are safe on our college campuses, including those who are visiting college campuses,” Dan Harrington said.

Last year’s murder of U.Va. student Hannah Graham also breaches this issue. Jesse Matthews is charged with intent to defile in the Graham case, and has also has been linked to the Harrington case.

Matthews was accused of sexual assault while a student at Liberty University and Christopher Newport University.

In November, Rolling Stone magazine published an article about an alleged fraternity gang rape at U.Va. Authorities have since determined the article was inaccurate; however, the story prompted legislators to more critically examine how colleges handle sexual assaults.

Shortly after assuming office last January, Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed a Task Force on Combating Sexual Violence, chaired by Attorney General Mark Herring. The task force is currently drafting proposals to better address campus sexual assaults.

Filler-Corn’s bill would apply only to sexual assaults that happen on campus at public colleges and universities. She said the bill would ensure law enforcement authorities and prosecutors share information and evidence about sexual assaults.

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