Texas Gov. Greg Abbott capped off the legislative efforts of the state’s House of Representatives to help sexual assault survivors by signing a bill to address the heavy backlog of untested rape kits.
In a public signing held June 4, Abbott signed House Bill 8, drafted and approved by the House during the 86th Legislature, held from Jan. 8 to May 27.
According to the Texas Tribune, the bill is meant to “tackle the state backlog of untested rape kits, which are collected by police through often invasive, hours-long exams of sexual assault victims and can cost anywhere between $500 and $2000 to test.” The bipartisan legislation sponsored primarily by state Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, mandates state law enforcement agencies audit the number, location, and status of all rape kits currently filed and waiting to be tested.
Establishing New Guidelines for Rape Kit Testing
An audit in 2011 – brought on by legislation passed by former state Sen. Wendy Davis – revealed there were at least 18,000 untested rape kits in the state of Texas at the time. Some of that evidence was damaged by mold, while other kits were being stored in warehouses. At the time, the House appropriated funds to address the problem, but it fell short of rigorously addressing the problem.
House Bill 8, which will go into effect Sept. 1, lays out new timeline guidelines for labs, requiring they test rape kits within 90 days of receiving the evidence. It also removes the statute of limitations for sexual assault “for cases where the evidence hasn’t been subject to forensic testing,” according to the Texas Tribune. The state also will be prohibited from destroying a rape kit for at least 40 years or until the statute of limitations expires, whichever is longer, and must give regular updates to sexual assault survivors on their cases.
Lastly, the bill is designed to give support for training more nurses who perform sexual assault exams in rural areas, according to KSAT.
Confronting Sexual Violence
State Rep. Leave named the bill after Lavinia Masters, a Dallas woman who was raped at knifepoint in 1985, at age 13, and who has served as a strong advocate for the bill during the legislative session. Masters’ rape kit was left sitting untested on a shelf in the Dallas Police Department for more than 20 years. By the time she called to get the status of her case, the statute of limitations for Masters to press charges had already expired, meaning her attacker – a serial of rapist – couldn’t be prosecuted for his crimes against her.
As Neave told the Texas Tribune, the successful legislation “is for the women who have waited for years for justice for all the women who were not believed.”
“This sexual violence does not pay mind to party, to wealth, to age,” Neave stated. “Today we are saying to the women of Texas, not one more rape kit untested, not one more shot at justice left untested.”