While 2022 may have been Virginia’s year for the “beagle bills,” drawing considerable attention across the Commonwealth and the nation, other animal bills were considered and passed last year with less fanfare. One such animal bill was not assigned as usual to the General Assembly’s agricultural committees. Instead SB 249, “Sexual abuse of animals; definitions, penalty” made its way from the State Senate Judiciary Committee and House Committee for Courts of Justice to unanimous approval in both legislative houses.
Sponsored by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), the bill was signed by the governor in April and effective on July 1, 2022. The enactment prohibits sexual contact with an animal by a person, or coercing another into sexual contact with an animal, offering or possessing an animal with intent to subject the animal to sexual contact, and permitting such contact. The law prohibits the production, sale, transmission, or possession of an obscene item depicting a person engaged in sexual contact with an animal. The penalty for guilt is a Class 6 felony. The bill also provides that any person convicted of sexual abuse of an animal is prohibited from owning or exercising control over an animal, and may be ordered to attend an appropriate treatment program or obtain psychiatric or psychological counseling.
Prior to Surovell’s bill Virginia’s only statute against “bestiality” was found in §18.2-361, Crimes Against Nature, making it a crime for anyone to “carnally know a brute animal.” That statute used archaic language with no clear definitions, leaving large loopholes. It did not penalize individuals who were not themselves the abusers; such as those who solicit or allow others to sexually abuse their animals in the pornography industry. Nor was such use in pornography explicitly prohibited under prior law.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recently recognized Surovell as its 2022 Senate Legislator of the Year for his effort in this protection of animals. Virginia State director for HSUS, Molly Armus, said “Senator Surovell showed a strong commitment to animal protection by patroning SB 249, which modernized and closed loopholes in Virginia’s law against animal sexual abuse. Animal sexual abuse, also called bestiality, is a serious crime, often perpetrated by offenders who extend their sexual abuse to humans. Research shows strong ties to pedophilia, child pornography, rape and other human sex crimes. This law will result in meaningful protections for both animals and people, so we’re grateful for his leadership.”
Surovell said, “I’m honored to receive the Humane Legislator Award. The law we passed last year updated the Virginia code to ensure that videos of animal sexual abuse can be prosecuted as criminal offenses. Studies show that there is a correlation between child sexual abuse offenders and animal abuse offenders and it is crucial that animal sexual abuse crimes be prosecuted appropriately in Virginia.”
The Humane Society of the United States received acclaim in 2022 for its role in managing the unprecedented rescue of more than 4,000 beagle dogs from the troubled Envigo research breeding facility in a settlement agreement overseen by the U.S. District Court. Between July 21 and Sept. 7, the organization’s disaster relief unit moved the dogs of various ages from puppies to adults, to more than 120 rescues in 29 states.
HSUS also honored Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) as House of Delegates Legislator of the Year for his work that enacted research beagle protection in 2022 without a delaying reenactment clause.
Past winners for 2021 work include joint Senate recipients Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33) for her Humane Cosmetics Act and Sen. Bill Stanley (R-20) for his Animal Testing Facilities, adoption of dogs and cats bill. The prior House of Delegates legislator of the year was Del. Kaye Kory (D-38) for her House Humane Cosmetics Act.