Assaulted by Predators, Victimized by the Law
by Texas Family Project
Texas has ignored rape victims for decades. Tens of thousands of our mothers, sisters, and daughters are raped each year but because of irresponsible and blatantly misogynist state policy our justice system continues to neglect basic protections and offers little to no justice for victims. The problem is so bad that often rapists can attack multiple victims before any investigation ever begins.
But now, finally, that’s starting to change.
On June 4 Governor Greg Abbot signed the Lavina Masters Act into law. The bill is aimed at eliminating the backlog of untested rape kits in Texas. Texas has been saddled with thousands of untested rape kits gathering dust in labs for decades. In fact, officials cannot even give an accurate count of untested rape kits in their possession. This backlog causes further trauma to sexual assault survivors who seek justice. Furthermore, it allows perpetrators to remain on the street, putting more people in danger.
This bi-partisan law allocates $50 million to hire and train people to test the rape kits for use in criminal prosecutions. It also mandates police departments conduct a full audit to determine how many untested rape kits the state has, sets a deadline for those kits to be tested, and requires evidence be kept for at least 40 years.
In addition to the Lavina Master’s Act, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced that beginning in a few months, some survivors will be able to track their rape kits using an online portal. Texas Department of Public Safety will launch this program in Houston, Austin, Amarillo, and Arlington, and survivors will be able to track their kits in real time from collection to testing.
While Texas is certainly trying to right a wrong, some women in Travis County are tired of waiting and are seeking justice through the courts. Last June, three plaintiffs launched a class action lawsuit against the City of Austin, Travis County, and local officials for failing to adequately investigate and prosecute their sexual assault cases.
The women claim that the negligence goes far beyond the failure of law enforcement to test rape kits. They contend that law enforcement officials failed to interview witnesses, neglected to collect evidence from crime scenes, and refused to prosecute perpetrators even when the DNA was found in the rape kits.
Elizabeth Meyers, attorney for the women suing the City of Austin, points out that while law enforcement actively investigates and prosecutes drug cases and thefts, less than 1% of sexual assault crimes have been prosecuted in Travis County. Meyers asserts that the failure to adequately prosecute sexual assault crimes is gender-based discrimination that has denied women equal access to justice and equal protection of the law.
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