Ensure Rapists Are Punished

Rape victims often do not report the crimes against them to police. When they do, lack of evidence sometimes means charges are not filed. And even when rapists are prosecuted, problems with evidence sometimes leads to them being acquitted.

West Virginians can do more to prevent such miscarriages of justice.

Physical evidence collected directly from sexual assault victims often is the strongest proof against rapists. The difficulty in collecting it is obvious: Health care professionals focus on treating victims’ physical and emotional injuries. That sometimes results in mistakes in how evidence is collected and processed. As many as 75 percent of the “rape kits” containing such evidence involve errors in collection and/or documentation, according to the West Virginia State Police Forensics Laboratory.

One way to alleviate that problem is to provide health care professionals with special training in collecting evidence from sexual assault victims. A bill already approved by the House of Delegates could help in that regard.

House Bill 4236 would set up a program of regulations and training for sexual assault nurse examiners. Many hospitals already have them, but the bill, if enacted, could expand the network of such personnel in West Virginia.

Lawmakers examined the measure, co-sponsored by Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, carefully. Earlier this month, the House of Delegates approved the bill by a 95-0 vote. Now it is being considered in the state Senate.

But so are scores of other pieces of legislation. With only about two and one-half weeks left in the legislative session, some of them – including very worthy initiatives – will get lost in the crush of business at the Capitol.

HB 4236 and its Senate counterpart, SB 9, should not be allowed to languish. State senators should bring it up for a vote as soon as possible, approving the measure and sending it on to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for his signature.

Rapists should not be allowed to escape the consequences of their crimes because health care personnel are so concerned with helping victims that errors are made in collecting evidence. HB 4236 would make that happen less frequently in West Virginia.