Victim Fights for Faster Testing of Rape Kits

North Texas woman works to streamline backlog of untested rape kits

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A North Texas woman who was sexually assaulted more than 20 years ago says all victims deserve some kind of progression in the investigation of their cases.

    A Dallas woman who was sexually assaulted in the 1980s whose rape kit was not processed until the statue of limitations ran out is working with lawmakers on legislation to end the backlog.

    About 400,000 rape kits, or sets of DNA and other forensic evidence, around the country are untested.

    Nurses at Parkland Hospital collected a rape kit when Carol Bart was sexually assaulted in 1984, but the kit was not tested until her husband called Dallas police in 2008.

    NBC 5 does not generally identify the victims of sexual assault, but Bart came forward to talk about her case.

    Bart's husband is the one who made the first call. In 2008, he called Dallas Police to see if they could find her rape kit. Detectives found it, and had it tested -- and there was a DNA hit.

    The DNA belonged to Joseph Houston Jr. He had served time for a kidnapping, but he wouldn't serve any time for the alleged attack on Bart.

    "The biggest shock for me was finding out that there was a statute of limitations and we couldn't prosecute him," she said."I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry. It seemed unfair that Texas had a statute of limitations that was only five years."

    Bart was 24 years when she was attacked. She said the date -- June 9, 1984 -- is burned into her memory.

    Earlier that day, she had gone out on a date. A man with a knife forced her into her car and brutally raped her several times when she was returning her apartment.

    "I was with him in the car for three and a half hours," Bart said.

    Somehow, she managed to drive herself to the hospital. A nurse took DNA samples for a rape kit.

    "It's a very invasive procedure. And you know, your body is the crime scene. And it's not easy to go though that," Bart said. "I believed that this evidence would be used to locate this man. They were taking it for a reason."

    Bart kept in touch with detectives. She saw a few photo lineups and even sat through a live lineup of suspects. But she never found her attacker.

    "I didn't give up hope," she said. "I didn't think about it a lot, but I didn't give up hope. I felt that one day, I'd get a call, and they'd say we know who it is."

    Bart had her day in court after her rape kit was tested, but it was for another crime. Houston was convicted of a sex crime against an 11-year-old girl, and the judge let her testify during his sentencing hearing.

    "It was an opportunity for me to face him in court when I wasn't going to get my own and just to let him know that he didn't ruin my life. I wasn't going to let him ruin my life," she said.

    Bart is working with Sen. John Cornyn on the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry, or SAFER, Act of 2012.

    Cornyn's staff said the bill would create a database of sexual assault forensic evidence to track and monitor untested rape kits. The measure wouldn't include more money for the testing but would allow money from the Debbie Smith Act to be spent on directly "analyzing untested DNA evidence."

    The Debbie Smith Act, named for a victim of sexual assault, provides federal grants to process backlogged DNA samples.

    Kits would be audited to learn the date of the crime, identify where the crime happened and identify the statute of limitations of the case. The database would also monitor testing status.

    Cornyn said the bill has bipartisan support in the Senate.

    "I think it helps assure that justice is actually done," he told NBC 5. "You've actually got the right person who has committed the crime."

    Bart agrees.

    "Every victim deserves some kind of progression in their case. Progress will always trump inactivity, and we've had inactivity way too long," she said.