Kaine Seeks To Toughen Abuse Laws

Law enforcement leaders and members of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance listen as Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) announces his 2008 legislative initiatives.
Law enforcement leaders and members of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance listen as Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) announces his 2008 legislative initiatives. (By Lindy Keast Rodman -- Richmond Times-dispatch Via Associated Press)
By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 3, 2008

RICHMOND, Jan. 2 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said Wednesday that he will ask the General Assembly to toughen laws against sexual and domestic abuse and increase money for new and existing programs to prevent similar types of violence in Virginia.

Kaine's announcement was the first in a series over the next few days to unveil his priorities for the 60-day legislative session, which begins next Wednesday. Kaine's other top issues include restricting smoking in restaurants, expanding consumer protection programs and closing a loophole that allows unlicensed gun dealers or people making one-on-one sales, as is done at gun shows, to sell guns without conducting background checks.

Kaine (D) said he wanted to improve the treatment of sexual assault and domestic violence victims by spending an additional $450,000 a year on state crisis centers and almost $300,000 more a year on a federal prevention program. Virginia has 37 centers across the state, including facilities in Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties and in Alexandria and Leesburg.

"The General Assembly has done a really good job in the last few years focusing on the management of violent sexual offenders," Kaine said. "What this is about is now turning our attention to being better in how we treat victims of sexual assault and violence and making sure Virginia is doing what we need to do in that area."

Kaine said he wants to spare people who report being raped from having to take lie detector tests and to require courts to immediately process protective orders in civil abuse cases.

The proposal that could be the most controversial would prevent a man who has sexually assaulted a girl ages 14 to 16 from avoiding prosecution by offering to marry her.

A law allowing such a defense has been on the books for at least five decades, though it is rarely used. An 18-year-old man who has sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, for example, could be found guilty of sexual assault, and some lawmakers believe the man should have the option of marrying her.

For the first time since Kaine has been governor, control of the legislature will be split between Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House of Delegates.

House Republicans have challenged some of Kaine's legislative priorities in what is expected to be a tight budget year. But Kaine said he does not think the Republican majority will oppose his proposals, though he acknowledged the one involving men who use marriage as a shield against prosecution has been controversial in the past.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said Wednesday that fighting sexual violence has been a top priority for the General Assembly in past years.

"It's always good to have ideas in this area," Griffith said. "It's a pretty good package. Whether we can afford it or not this year, I don't know."

One in 10 Virginia adults reports being the victim of rape or attempted rape, according to a 2005-06 survey by the state Department of Health. In a one-year period, 2.4 percent of Virginia adults reported being the victim of sexual violence, according to the survey. Experts say that only a fraction of those who have been assaulted report the crimes to police, making statistics unreliable.

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