How Virginia laws affect women: Violence
By Keya Vakil
June 18, 2019

Check out the rest of our series on how Virginia laws affect women here.

Women make up half of Virginia’s population, but account for nearly two-thirds of the state’s victims in cases where an intimate partner is killed. And a majority of those murders are committed with a gun.

From 2004 to 2013, 37% of female murder victims in Virginia were killed by an intimate partner, and six out of every ten of those murders was carried out with a firearm.

Virginia’s rate of intimate partner gun homicides of women during this period was 21% higher than the national average, according to an analysis of FBI data.

Despite these grim facts, Republicans in Virginia’s General Assembly joined their federal counterparts and defeated two dozen gun safety bills this year.

That included SB 1467, a bill that aimed to prevent domestic abusers from purchasing firearms and mandated that prohibited abusers relinquish their guns, too. Other legislation had measures that would to require universal background checks for all gun buyers and so-called “red flag” laws that would allow close family members and law enforcement officers to petition a court to temporarily limit a person’s access to firearms if they have exhibited dangerous behavior.

They defeated the bill even though studies have shown that when states force domestic violence offenders to relinquish their guns, the intimate-partner homicide rate drops by almost 10%.

Some of these votes are coming under renewed scrutiny after the tragic mass shooting in Virginia Beach on May 31 and ahead of the legislature’s upcoming special session.

The General Assembly did pass some laws, though, so let’s take a look at those.

They passed a bill that exempts Sexual Assault Response Teams and Multidisciplinary Child Sexual Abuse Teams from being subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, thus giving survivors more protection.

Lawmakers also passed legislation from Del. Karrie Delaney (D-Fairfax) that prohibits employers from forcing employees to sign nondisclosure or confidentiality agreements that conceal details relating to a claim of sexual assault.

They also passed HB 2205, which requires any high school “family life educational curriculum” to include consent education.

On the other hand, the Republican-led General Assembly opted not to hear a bill from Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) which would have increased the statute of limitations for prosecuting misdemeanor violations where the victim is a minor.

They also blocked several bills from Democrats that would have protected and expanded women’s reproductive rights, including those of abuse survivors.

Domestic abuse and violence against women remains a critical issue in Virginia. In 2016, there were more than 60,000 calls to domestic and sexual violence hotlines across the state and a total of 55,376 emergency protective orders were issued by magistrates and judges across the Commonwealth, according to the state’s 2018 Report on Domestic and Sexual Violence in Virginia.

And on a national level, that one in four women experience domestic violence, one in five women is raped during her lifetime, and one in ten women have been raped by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

In recent years, the state has helped fund programs to help Virginians experiencing domestic violence, such as the Project for the Empowerment of Survivors (PES) and the Underserved Populations Learning Collaborative (UPLC).

But gaps remain, and in the aftermath of the Virginia Beach mass shooting, advocates like the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance are determined to push lawmakers.

They, and other groups like them, want to see reforms to the state’s gun laws, not only to prevent mass shootings, but to protect women from all forms of violence.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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