By Kelsey Callahan
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A state legislator from Northern Virginia urged her colleagues Tuesday to pass a bill requiring that campus sexual assaults be reported promptly to the local commonwealth’s attorney instead of being handled solely by campus and local police.
Under House Bill 1343, sponsored by Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, campus and local law enforcement authorities would have 48 hours after receiving a 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.
Her measure would come into play after the victim reports a sexual assault. Filler-Corn said she strongly believes that it should still be the victim’s choice whether to report the crime.
HB 1343 has bipartisan support. The chief patrons are Filler-Corn and Delegate David B. Albo, a Republican from Springfield and a University of Virginia graduate. A dozen other delegates are co-sponsoring the measure.
The parents of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student who disappeared from a concert at John Paul Jones Arena at U.Va. in 2009 and was later found dead, attended Tuesday’s news conference to support the bill. The parents, Dan and Gil Harrington, have established a foundation called Save the Next Girl.
“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.
Sexual assaults on college campuses have been the focus of intense discussion in Virginia. In November, Rolling Stone magazine published an article about a supposed gang rape at U.Va. Authorities have since determined that the incident never happened; however, the article prompted legislators and other officials to examine how colleges handle sexual assaults.
Last year’s slaying of U.Va. student Hannah Graham also raised concerns about the issue. Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. is charged with intent to defile in the Graham case. Matthew, who also has been linked to the Harrington case, had been accused of sexual assault while a student at Liberty University and Christopher Newport University.
Last year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed a Task Force on Combating Sexual Violence, chaired by Attorney General Mark Herring. That panel also is drafting proposals to address campus sexual assaults.
HB 1343 would apply only to sexual assaults that happen on campus at public colleges and universities. Filler-Corn said the bill would ensure that law enforcement authorities and prosecutors share information and evidence about sexual assaults.