General Assembly combats sexual assault and violence

HouseGOPIssues, Op-Ed, Public Safety

Richmond Times-Dispatch
April 3, 2016
By: Delegate Jimmie Massie

April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As the calendar turns to spring and the flowers bloom, it is important for Virginians to know about the bipartisan efforts underway on their behalf, by their elected leaders, to combat sexual assault and violence in the two places it is most prevalent: at home and on college campuses.

Elected leaders of both parties in the commonwealth recognize that sexual assault is a real and serious problem. In many respects, Virginia has led the nation in combating sexual assault. Over the years, the General Assembly has worked with Republican and Democratic governors to combat intimate partner violence and sexual violence against children. In the years ahead, we will no doubt continue to be vigilant in our efforts.

The statistics are alarming. Nearly one in two women and one in five men have been victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives. Over 18 percent of women have been raped at some point in their lives.

Most of the time, sexual assault occurs within a household as a form of domestic violence. Over 70 percent of rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. Virginia’s Family Violence and Sexual Assault hotline fields more than 70,000 calls for help each year. Sexual assault is also perpetrated on college campuses. Almost 40 percent of female rape victims are first raped during their college-age years.

Safe families, neighborhoods, communities and college campuses are very important to the health of our commonwealth. Thanks to bipartisan work in Richmond, Virginia is leading the nation when it comes to combating sexual assault and violence, both at home and on college campuses. Tougher penalties to deter repeat offenders and increased funding for prevention, treatment, counseling and support services represent the latest steps in our ongoing efforts.

Over the past 10 years, the General Assembly has passed more than 40 pieces of legislation aimed at combating sexual assault and violence. This year, the House of Delegates focused on cracking down on repeat, chronic and habitual offenders. We passed legislation to toughen penalties for repeat misdemeanor offenses and made it a felony to violate a protective order while possessing a firearm.

The two-year budget the Assembly passed in March includes $2 million in grants and funding that will support 16 new full-time employees at Virginia’s 60 agencies that deal with sexual and domestic violence. This will allow these agencies to provide more and much-needed emergency shelter and housing, crisis medical services, trauma counseling and legal support to women in need.

Sexual assault and violence on college campuses is a nationally recognized problem. The federal Department of Education has investigated or is investigating more than 140 colleges and universities for their responses to incidents of sexual assault on campus.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed historic, first-in-the-nation legislation that will go a long way toward making Virginia’s college campuses safer. Both the legislation we passed and the process by which we passed it have become models for states across the country. Working in a bipartisan fashion with Governor McAuliffe and his Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence, Attorney General Herring, college and university presidents and advocacy stakeholders, Republicans in the General Assembly sponsored — and passed — three major pieces of landmark legislation during the 2015 session.

The first bill, which I sponsored, requires campus police officers to notify commonwealth’s attorneys within 48 hours of beginning an investigation into a felony criminal sexual assault. The second bill, sponsored by Del. Rob Bell, requires universities to commit to maintaining services for victims, assisting victims in finding these services and finally defining how university employees must deal with information they receive about sexual assaults. The third bill, sponsored by Sen. Tommy Norment, requires universities to notate the transcripts of individuals who commit sexual assault.

The General Assembly passed, with bipartisan support, four pieces of legislation in 2016 as a continuation of our 2015 effort. I was proud to introduce House Bills 1015 and 1016, both of which will ensure better coordination among law enforcement, college officials and campus Sexual Assault Response Teams. These two bills, as well as legislation carried by Democrats Eileen Filler-Corn and Jennifer McClellan, were all endorsed by McAuliffe and Herring’s Combating Campus Sexual Violence Task Force. And all these bills passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Moving forward, we must continue to be vigilant. Sexual assault and violence, both at home and on college campuses, must be minimized if not eradicated. The bipartisan work being done by your elected leaders in the legislature is a strong step in the right direction.

Jimmie Massie represents the 72nd District — which includes part of western Henrico County — in the Virginia House of Delegates. He can be reached at