Texas lawmakers want to end a backlog of untested rape kits. A bipartisan bill introduced Tuesday aimed to help thousands of women find justice and closure. The legislation was named after a sexual assault survivor who was denied justice after waiting decades for her evidence to be tested.
Lawmakers first learned about the backlog of untested rape kits in 2011. After hearing reports of women having to wait decades, the legislature passed a bill requiring a statewide audit of all untested rape kits. At the time, the backlog neared 20,000.
Lawmakers during the 2017 session passed legislation aimed at reducing the backlog. It ranged from a tracking system for each individual rape kit to a crowdfunding effort that raised more than half-a-million dollars towards expediting the testing of evidence.
But advocates said a large backlog remains. And Dallas State Rep. Victoria Neave is hoping to do more this session so that survivors are able to see justice before the statute of limitations ends.
“Every rape kit is not just a number sitting on a shelf. Every rape kit represents a survivor. Every rape kit tells a story,” Neave said.
She introduced a bill named after Lavinia Masters. In 1985, 13-year-old Masters was raped in the middle of the night in her family’s Dallas home. Her case and the DNA collected sat on a shelf for 21 years.
“My evidence on my life sat on a shelf, waiting, and I sat alone the darkness, alone, afraid, terrified, traumatized, wondering when would my first responders come to my rescue,” Masters said.
After decades of waiting, Masters learned from investigators that her case gone beyond the state’s statute of limitations of ten years, and the man that raped her had gone to sexually assault two other women before he was arrested.
Masters hoped her story will inspire lawmakers this session to pass additional legislation aimed at ending the backlog and inspire other survivors to seek justice.
Women like Danielle. She's a junior at the University of Texas at Austin who asked that Texas Public Radio not use her full name for fear of being ostracized by family and friends.
“Before college, my freshman year, I went to a fraternity party, and I started talking to a boy. He invited me up to his room. I had never drank before college so I was very drunk for one of the first times in my life, and I told him I didn’t want to have sex but he did it anyway,” Danielle said.
She said between the invasive procedure of collecting evidence for a rape kit and hearing news stories of the state backlog that year, she decided not report her sexual assault.
“Because with that wait period it would take so long, and that’s not something I was prepared for,” she said.
Danielle said she didn’t want to have to replay that night over and over again in head because she expected to wait years to have evidence from her case tested.
“These processes really do cause a lot of re-traumatization and are just really hard on the survivor in general,” Danielle said.
Rep. Neave hoped to help restore survivor’s faith in the system by spearheading an effort this session to ease the backlog of rape kits and future delays with bipartisan legislation like House Bill 8.
“Sexual assaults happen everyday so we need a new update on the audit. So that’s part of the testing. We also have timelines for testing and analysis for the newly collected kits,” Neave said.
Gov. Greg Abbott, during his State of the State, prioritized the passage of legislation aimed at ending the backlog of untested rape kits and forensic evidence.
Lawmakers will be able to hear testimony on these bills beginning next week.