WV lawmakers are moving to toughen laws against sexual assault after lawmakers unanimously approved a measure Monday to make rape a crime in the city.
Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Monday to pass a bill that would make rape punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
The new law would take effect immediately and be retroactive to Oct. 1.
The legislation, sponsored by State Sen. David Williams, R-Lexington, is a response to the rise of “rape culture” and has been in the works for months.
In recent months, the city has seen a rise in sexual assaults and rapes reported to the police.
In a statement, Williams said he’s concerned about “a climate that encourages women to avoid coming forward with sexual assaults,” which can result in false accusations and prevent victims from coming forward.
“If someone is falsely accused, it is the victim’s responsibility to support them and hold them accountable,” Williams said.
“This legislation is meant to ensure that victims are protected from false allegations and the potential harm they could suffer as a result.”
State Rep. Brian Kiley, D-Lexmond, said in a statement that the new law is “a critical first step toward ensuring our citizens have the protections they need to be safe in our community.”
Kiley also said that “the safety and well-being of all residents is our top priority.”
“If we are to protect our communities from this type of violence, we must ensure that our law enforcement agencies are equipped to respond to any sexual assault complaints in a timely and effective manner,” he said.
The new law comes after a series of high-profile assaults in Lexington that occurred during the legislative session in 2017.
It came as a national outcry about the issue gained momentum.
In October, a 21-year-old woman accused a former classmate of raping her in her dorm room at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
The woman, now 20, was sentenced to prison and fined $15,000 for the assault.
The rape of a 16-year old girl in April also sparked national outrage.
Her alleged attacker was also sentenced to three years in federal prison for the rape.
In July, a 16 of 17 members of the University’s women’s basketball team were convicted of rape after prosecutors said they had sex with the victim.
In April, a former football player was sentenced after being convicted of raping a 13-yearold girl in a Louisville parking lot.
In April, the state’s attorney general announced charges against seven members of a Louisville football team for the sexual assault of a girl at a party.
A total of 16 former state employees have been convicted of sexual misconduct in the past year, and the office of Gov.
Steve Beshear has charged more than 20 former state officials with the crime.
In addition to rape, the law also would make it a crime for a person to have sexual intercourse with another person without consent and would prohibit a person from engaging in sexual activity while intoxicated.