Prosecuting Attorney breaks down WV law surrounding sexual assaults

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BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Twanna Warner was sexually assaulted more than 15 years ago.

“I still have to deal with that every day,” Warner said.

Warner explained a man forced himself on her, what most people would call rape. However, you will not hear law enforcement or prosecuting attorneys use the word rape to describe what happened to her.

Warner said she found this difficult to wrap her head around after her experience.

“That’s like saying if someone is murdered, its not called murder. Why not call rape, rape? Why do we change the word? That’s like saying that crime did not happen,” Warner said.

Warner used her traumatic experience for good, and became a sexual assault victim advocate.
She said she now understands the terms, but still has to explain to her clients that rape is not a charge.

Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Benjamin Hatfield, explained why they use sexual assault instead of rape.

“The laws in the state of WV, the criminal code, doesn’t contain a rape charge. It contains two varying levels of sexual offenses, the first one is sexual assault and the second one is sexual abuse,” Hatfield said.

He said by using these terms, it actually makes it easier to prosecute the people who commit these crimes. There are different levels of sexual assault, based on factors of the crime, that play into the prosecution.

“Say for instance, if you have a first degree sexual assault and it involves a defendant over 18 and a victim under 12, that carries an enhancement, makes it an indetermined sentence of 25 to 100 years,” Hatfield said.

Hatfield said by using the word sexual assault instead of rape, it does not take away from the severity of the crime. So, victims like Warner can still see the justice they deserve.

“It changes nothing about the penalties, it changes nothing about what happened to the victims, nothing about the trauma they experienced. It only pertains to our ability to classify crimes in court,” Hatfield explained.

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