Virginia strengthens protections for underage victims of sexual abuse

The General Assembly of Virginia has passed a number of measures designed to protect children who are victims of sexual assault and abuse.  The laws discussed in the article below became effective on July 1, 2019.

Mandatory Reporters

Virginia added ministers, priests, rabbis, imams, and duly accredited practitioners of any church or other religious organization or denomination to the list of persons who are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect.1

The other categories of mandatory reporters previously identified in Virginia Code § 63.2-1509 are:2

    1. Persons licensed to practice medicine or any of the healing arts;
    2. Hospital residents and interns, and any person employed in the nursing profession;
    3. Social workers and family-services specialists;
    4. Probation officers;
    5. Teachers and others who are employed in public or private schools, kindergartens or nursery schools;
    6. Anyone who provides full-time or part-time childcare for pay on a regularly planned basis;
    7. Mental health professionals;
    8. Law-enforcement officers and animal control officers;
    9. Mediators;
    10. Any other professional who is employed by a private or state-operated hospital, institution or facility to which children have been committed or where children have been placed for care and treatment;
    11. Anyone (18 years of age or older) who is associated with or employed by any public or private organization responsible for the care, custody or control of children;
    12. Court-appointed special advocates;
    13. Anyone (18 years of age or older) who has received training approved by the Department of Social Services for the purposes of recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect;
  1. Department employees who determine eligibility for public assistance;
  2. Emergency medical services providers;3
  3. Athletic coaches, directors, or anyone (18 years of age or older) who is employed by or volunteers with a private sports organization or team;
  4. Administrators or employees (18 years of age or older) of public or private day camps, youth centers and youth recreation programs; and
  5. Anyone who is employed by a public or private institution of higher education.4

Mandatory reporters do not have to file a report if they have actual knowledge that the issue has already been reported to the local department or hotline.  Subject to that exception, any mandatory reporter who fails to report the issue within 24 hours will be fined up to $500 for the first failure and more than $1000 for subsequent failures.  In cases of rape, sodomy, or object sexual penetration, a mandatory reporter who knowingly and intentionally fails to make the report is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Individuals who make reports, provide records or information or testify in any judicial proceeding arising from the report, record, or information are immune from civil or criminal liability or administrative penalties and sanctions unless the person acted in bad faith or with malicious purpose.

Testimony from Children Regarding Abuse

Virginia has two laws that are intended to make it easier for children to testify about abuse and neglect.  In civil proceedings involving the alleged abuse or neglect of a child, Virginia Code § 63.2-1522 allows some out-of-court statements describing sexual acts with or on the child by another to be admitted into evidence if the statement was made by a child who was 14 years of age or younger.  Virginia Code § 63.2-1523, which is similar to Code § 63.2-1522, pertains to the use of videotaped statements.  Before the Virginia General Assembly amended these statutes in 2019, only statements from children who were 12 years of age or younger could be admitted.

The General Assembly also amended Virginia Code § 18.2-67.9, which allows children who are the victim of commercial sex trafficking or prostitution to testify through two-way closed-circuit television if the child was 14 years of age or younger at the time of the offense and 16 years of age or younger at the time of the trial.

Investigations of Child Abuse and Neglect

The General Assembly amended Virginia Code §§ 3.2-1505 and 63.2-1506 to require local boards of social services, when investigating an individual who is the subject of child abuse or neglect allegations or the subject of a family assessment, to determine whether the individual has resided in another state within at least the preceding five years.  If the individual has resided in another state, the new laws require the local boards to request a search of the child abuse and neglect registry or equivalent registry maintained by those states.

Protective Orders

Virginia has made it easier for child and adult victims to obtain a protective order.  As of July 1, 2019, if any victim is unable to obtain a hearing for a protective order within 15 days of the preliminary protective order because the court is lawfully closed (such as a Saturday, Sunday, legal holiday, or other day on which the court is lawfully closed), the court will schedule the individual’s hearing on the day that the court opens.

In addition, Virginia now requires school principals who receive notice that a circuit court, general district court, juvenile and domestic relations court, or magistrate has issued a protective order for the protection of a child who is enrolled at a public elementary or secondary school to notify certain school personnel.

Sex Trafficking

Virginia has enacted a number of measures designed to address the issue of human sex trafficking.  As of July 1, 2019, Virginia Code §§ 4.1-119.1 and § 60.2-400.1 require the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority and the Virginia Employment Commission to post notice of the existence of a human trafficking hotline in government stores and employment offices to alert possible witnesses or victims of human trafficking to the availability of a means to report crimes or gain assistance.

In addition, Virginia Code § 9.1-116.4 created a Sex Trafficking Response Coordinator within the Department of Criminal Justice Services.  The coordinator will:

  1. create a statewide plan for local and state agencies to identify and respond to victims of sex trafficking;
  2. coordinate the development of standards and guidelines for treatment programs for victims of sex trafficking;
  3. maintain a list of programs that provide treatment or specialized services to victims of sex trafficking and make such list available to law-enforcement agencies, attorneys for the Commonwealth, crime victim and witness assistance programs, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Education, and school divisions;
  4. oversee the development of a curriculum to be completed by persons convicted of solicitation of prostitution; and,
  5. promote strategies for the awareness of sex trafficking, for education and training related to sex trafficking, and for the reduction of demand for commercial sex.

Registered Sex Offenders in Emergency Shelters

Virginia requires all registered sex offenders who enter a state or local emergency shelter to notify a staff member at the shelter that they are a registered sex offender.  Any registered sex offender who fails to notify the shelter‘s staff is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.  Virginia law does not allow any shelter to deny entry to an individual solely on the basis of his status as a sex offender.  However, emergency shelters may deny entry to individuals who have been convicted of a sexually violent offense for a period of time necessary to ensure the safety of other individuals admitted to the emergency shelter.

Registered Sex Offenders Cannot be Taxi Drivers

Virginia does not allow anyone who is required to register on the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry or the federal National Sex Offender Public Website to operate a taxicab.

Child Pornography Registry

Before it was amended, Virginia Code § 19.2-390.3 required all images that were presented as evidence and used in a conviction for child pornography offenses to be included in the Child Pornography Registry.  In 2019, the Virginia legislature changed the law to require copies of all known or suspected child pornography found during the course of a criminal investigation of child pornography offenses to be included in the Registry, as well.  The amended law allows Registry information to be used for victim identification, and also requires the Department of State Police, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, to submit a report detailing the implementation plan for changes to the Registry pursuant to the bill to the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security and the Chairmen of the House Committee on Appropriations and Senate Committee on Finance by January 1, 2020.

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  1. However, these individuals are not required to report the information if the doctrine of the religious organization requires the information to be kept in a confidential manner (such as a information that is obtained during a confession), or information that is subject to the ministerial (priest/penitent) privilege codified at Virginia Code § 8.01-400 (in civil cases) and Virginia Code § 19.2-271.3 (in criminal cases).
  2. Teachers, staff members, residents, interns and nurses who receive reports of suspected abuse in the course of professional services in a hospital, school or similar institution may, in place of making a report, immediately notify the person in charge of the institution or department, or his designee, who shall then make the report.
  3. Unless the provider immediately reports the matter directly to the attending physician at the hospital to which the child is transported, who shall then make the report.
  4. There is an exception for attorneys.