Rape Kit Reform Passes through the Texas Legislature; Now Awaits Governor’s Signature

Last week, Mariska Hargitay, founder and president of the Joyful Heart Foundation and Sarah Tofte, Joyful Heart’s Director of Policy & Advocacy, along with Annette Burrhus-Clay, Executive Director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle urging Texas lawmakers to pass legislation that calls for all rape kits to be counted and tested.

The bill would require law enforcement to inventory and report the number of untested rape kits in their storage facilities by October 2011 and to send all backlogged kits for testing by 2012. In addition, every new rape kit would be sent to a crime lab within 30 days of being booked into police evidence.

Testing kits helps bring perpetrators to justice and sends rapists the message that they will be held accountable for their crimes. And significantly, testing sends rape victims the clear, compassionate and vital message that their cases and their lives matter.

After a victim goes through an exam and agrees to have the kit turned over to the police, the logical assumption is that the evidence collected will be sent to a crime lab for testing. Why else would so much effort, time and extreme discomfort go into collecting the evidence?

But all too often, rape kits never reach the labs. As statutes of limitation run out and rapists go free to rape again, kits pile up in storage facilities in cities across the country. The news from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio reveals that Texas is no exception. Texas doesn’t currently require authorities to track untested rape kits, making the exact number throughout the state impossible to determine, but the sampling from several cities suggests that the backlog is big.

The Senate had already passed the legislation and this week, the House has unanimously passed it as well. It is now awaiting Governor Rick Perry’s signature.

If signed into law, Texas would become only the second state in the nation to enact such comprehensive rape kit reform. Illinois became the first in July of last year and since the law has come into effect, it has already yielded the first government-mandated report on and plan for the rape kit backlog across an entire state.

From the op-ed:

In [Texas,] a state with a 23 percent arrest rate for reported rapes–which means assailants have a 3 out of 4 chance of walking away without consequence–rape kit reform would not only send thousands of untested kits to the labs they were intended to reach, but would also give thousands of rape victims the opportunity for healing, as well as the justice they sought when they first reported the crimes.

The news about the rape kit backlog in Texas is alarming. But the problem can be fixed.

Pass this legislation, sign it into law and let Texas lead in rape kit reform.

Read the full op-ed on the Houston Chronicle, as well as recent coverage of the bill on KENS 5, The Texas Observer and CBS News.

You can also read past coverage of Texas’s backlog of untested rape kits here on the Backlog Blog.

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