Strengthening Vermont’s Laws Against Sexual Assault

Despite significant progress in strengthening Vermont’s laws against sexual assault, too many victims of sexual violence are not ensured access to effective justice, health care, and social services. The Judiciary Committee took up three bills that aim to reinforce the State’s sexual assault laws.

H.25 sets forth procedures and notification requirements related to medical forensic examinations of sexual assault victims. Each year, Vermont’s certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners perform approximately 250 sexual assault forensic exams. The forensic exam kits are, in turn, analyzed by the Vermont Forensic Laboratory. The bill would establish the right of sexual assault victims to receive the examination without cost, set forth timelines for delivery of kits from law enforcement to the Lab, and establish requirements for notifying victims of results and available services.

H.27 would eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assault-related crimes. Sexual assaults can be some of the most challenging cases to investigate, charge and prosecute. For various reasons, many victims choose not to immediately report sexual assaults to law enforcement. Because it can take years for sexual assault victims to be ready to engage with the legal system, it is important to eliminate the barrier of the current six-year statute of limitations for such cases.

H.74 would establish a new misdemeanor crime of lewd and lascivious conduct, including nonconsensual touching of another’s genitalia or other intimate body part or nonconsensual exposure of one’s own genitalia. This new crime is needed to address a recent Vermont Supreme Court Case, In re: KA, which limited misdemeanor lewdness charges brought under the existing crime of “prohibitive acts” to the context of prostitution. Prior to this case, prosecutors used this crime in cases that did not involve prostitution both in plea deals or to bring a misdemeanor charge when the evidence or the offender’s behavior did not support or justify a felony charge. H.74 would provide a way to resolve cases to ensure there is a record that a sex offense occurred without requiring a felony charge or placement of the offender on the Sex Offender Registry.

The Committee was informed of other factors that influence the effectiveness of the State’s efforts to address sexual violence. Law enforcement could use additional resources to address the large number of sexual assault cases. For example, one Special Investigation Unit in Lamoille County has only two officers who must deal with nearly 400 sexual assault cases annually. This unit suffers from high turnover.

 

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