Pair of Bills Promote Victim Empowerment and Advocacy

 

DOVER – Two key pieces of legislation introduced in the House today will aid victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Delaware by enhancing the framework for reporting incidents on college campuses and ensuring that privileged conversations between victims and their advocates remain confidential.

House Bill 1, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and Sen. Karen Peterson, addresses campus sexual assault reporting and was developed in collaboration with stakeholders in Delaware’s higher education community. The bill identifies responsible employees who, when made aware of alleged incidents of sexual assault on campus, are required to report those incidents to law enforcement and the department of justice.

“As a mother of a young woman in college, this is a deeply personal issue for me when I think about her safety and the availability of resources on campus,” said Rep. Williams, D-Newport. “It’s our responsibility as elected officials to do whatever is necessary to make sure our institutions of higher education in Delaware are safe places to learn, live and grow.”

Additionally, HB 1 ensures sensitivity to victims by requiring reporting parties and investigating law enforcement to fully explain their rights and direct them to confidential counseling and advocacy services. The legislation also sets up comprehensive sexual assault prevention and awareness training for all college freshman and all qualified employees. More targeted training will be provided to student populations identified as “at-risk,” such as student athletes, fraternity and sorority members, and international students.

Each year, HB 1 would require the attorney general to draft a report for the governor and lawmakers detailing the number and nature of sexual assault incidents on each campus.

“Too often college campuses that ought to be safe havens for students are sites of sexual assaults,” said Sen. Peterson, D-Stanton. “This legislation would require schools to be more vigilant in reporting such crimes, and would increase the support services available to the victims.”

“Under-reported campus assaults are a grave and growing concern for institutions across the country, prompting investigations at several well-known and respected universities,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Delaware City. “In our state, we want to address this issue clearly and uniformly, giving parents and their students the peace of mind they deserve.”

“The mental and emotional anguish faced by survivors of sexual assaults can be unimaginable,” said Sen. Blevins, D-Elsmere. “Part of protecting victims is making sure their right to privacy is preserved and this legislation makes sure advocates and others who may work with victims would no longer be required to divulge sensitive information unless otherwise required by law.”

House Bill 215, sponsored by Rep. Andria Bennett and Senate President Pro Tem Patricia Blevins, aids victims of intimate crimes by mandating confidentiality in their sensitive discussions with counselors and advocates. Currently, Delaware has no law addressing a victim’s confidentiality in a case of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. This bill would state that counselors and advocates may not disclose victim communications without written consent.

Rep. Bennett and Sen. Blevins worked closely with advocates to craft HB 215, soliciting their input and fine-tuning the language of the bill to ensure it achieves the desired effect of protecting victims’ conversations with their advocates.

“I want to thank our partners in the advocate community for bringing this issue to our attention and the Department of Justice for working with all stakeholders to draft a strong bill,” said Rep. Bennett, D-Dover. “With HB 215 we’re helping to empower victims of abuse and create safer spaces for them to heal.”

“The ability to have these difficult conversations with an advocate privately is essential and can be life-saving. We are grateful to Rep. Bennett and Sen. Blevins along with the sponsors for their leadership and support,” said Mariann Kenville-Moore, interim executive director of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “This bill furthers our efforts to ensure survivors in Delaware have access to protection and support when it’s needed most.”

The Department of Justice also played a key role in the formulation of the bill, ensuring that it builds a system that victims and criminal justice officials can rely on.

“It is important in cases of sexual assault that the victim has a support system they can trust, and it is important also that the judicial system have the ability to gain the information it needs to punish those who commit assaults,” said Attorney General Matt Denn.

These pieces of legislation are part of an 11-bill package unveiled this session to address a host of issues that impact Delaware women every day in their workplaces, doctors’ offices, homes and schools. Collectively, the bills are sponsored and cosponsored by every female lawmaker in Dover, from both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate. The legislation focuses on three major areas where reform is needed for Delaware women: justice and public safety, health care and employment. The wide-ranging package is a list of the top priorities for change and revision to state laws that impact women.

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