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Texas lawmaker comes up with clever idea to deal with state’s immense backlog of untested rape kits

By WITW Staff on March 16, 2017

With Texas laboratories still struggling to catch up with a gigantic backlog of untested rape kits amid a dearth of funding from local and state governments, one local Texas lawmaker is hoping to crowdfund testing for rape kits in an attempt to help at least some of the state’s victims of sexual assault get justice. The bill, proposed by Texas Representative Victoria Neave, a Dallas Democrat, would ask Texas drivers to donate a dollar or more for rape kit testing when they applied for or renewed their driving license.

“It’s really horrifying that we find ourselves in a situation where evidence testing for survivors is reliant on charitable donations by the public,” said Kristen Lenau, response coordinator for SAFE, an Austin-based support group. “We believe the onus to test this evidence is on state and local governments. But also as advocates for survivors, we’re in support of anything that’s going to get them a little closer to the justice and the resolution they deserve.”

In 2011, the state made a nominal attempt at decreasing its estimated backlog of 20,000 untested rape kits by passing a law requiring investigators to conduct forensic tests on evidence from sexual assaults within 30 days and granting the Texas Department of Public Safety $11 million to test all kits collected between 1996 and 2011. The money, however, was insufficient — according to state records, more than 3,600 of the pre-2011 kits remain untested as of January 31, 2017, and the backlog of new rape test kits continues growing.

“What that tells us is that for many years, sexual assault evidence and sexual assault survivors were not taken as seriously as we would like them to be,” said Lenau. “There is a story of neglect here around sexual assault survivors.”

According to Chris Kaiser, Director of Public Policy for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, the new backlog of kits is likely even larger than the backlog from 2011.

“Here in Austin, the experience very often is that in the course of a year and a half of prosecution, by the time it’s set for trial, the forensics still aren’t back,” said Kaiser. “That affects the prosecutor’s ability to go to trial. If you don’t have the forensics on time, your options are limited.”

Read the full story at The Daily Beast.


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