Dallas Lawmaker Victoria Neave Files ‘Lavinia Masters Act' to Tackle the Rape Kit Backlog in Texas

AUSTIN -- Surrounded by lawmakers from both parties and a survivor whose rape kit sat untested for more than two decades, Dallas State Rep. Victoria Neave on Tuesday unveiled a bill that aims to tackle the backlog of untested rape kits in the state and create a time requirement for the testing of new kits to prevent future backlogs. The "Lavinia Masters Act," as Neave has named her bill, would require an audit to determine the number, status and locations of all rape kits in the state of Texas. It is named after Masters, the Dallas survivor whose rape kit sat on a shelf for more than 21 years, after she was raped at knifepoint in her home when she was 13.Masters, who attended the news conference, said she felt alone and abandoned over the delay in testing. "I felt no one cared and everyone forgot about me," she said. "This is why I fight for victims, so they will no longer have to sit trapped in darkness, wondering will someone come to them and rescue them."Laws such as this one give every victim the opportunity by getting these rape kit logs off the shelf and giving someone their life back," she said. If her rape kit had been processed faster, Masters said, authorities could have identified her attacker before 2005, when he was already in prison for other crimes, including sexual assault. By then, the 10-year statute of limitations in Masters' case had run out and she could not press charges. "Every rape kit sitting on a shelf represents a survivor waiting for justice," Neave said, standing next to Masters. "House Bill 8 seeks to address the circumstances in Lavinia's case that led to the delay in the testing of her rape kit so that, in future cases, victims are not denied justice."As a freshman legislator in 2017, Neave made a name for herself by passing a law that allowed people to donate a dollar or more toward fighting the rape kit backlog in the state when they applied for or renewed their driver's license or vehicle registration. The effort had bipartisan support and ended up raising more than $560,000 to end the state's backlog of an estimated 15,000 untested rape kits. Neave's new bill continues her focus on helping survivors of sexual assault and tries to prevent a backlog from developing on the new rape kits that are created every year. More than 18,000 rapes were reported in the state in 2017. "We must prioritize Texas women and ensure that survivors of rape are receiving long overdue justice," she said. "We want women to know that we have your backs. We want women to know in Texas that we're coming together to tackle this issue once and for all."Neave's crusade has won support from some of the state's top politicians, including Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, whom Neave, a Democrat, thanked during the news conference. Abbott has called clearing the rape kit backlog an administrative priority and has asked for $14 million in state revenue to be allocated toward clearing the tests over the next biennium. The low bill number indicates it is a high priority for House leadership.Several Republican state representatives, including Dallas' Morgan Meyer and Angie Chen Button, stood by Neave as she unveiled her bill and vowed their support for the legislation. "On an issue as important as this, this is not Republican, it is not Democrat. It is not urban and it is not rural. It is an issue - and an issue we have to address now," Meyer said. Many of the provisions in the bill came from a Sexual Violence Task Force Neave created in Dallas, which included law enforcement agents, representatives from the district attorney's office, nurses and forensic experts. The bill would prevent law enforcement agencies from destroying rape kits related to uncharged or unsolved cases before the length of the statute of limitations runs out or 50 years go by -- the longer of the two. It also would delay the statute of limitation from running on sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault cases until a rape kit is tested. The bill also proposes extending the amount of time the Department of Public Safety holds on to a rape kit that a survivor chooses not to report to authorities from two years to five years. If a survivor changed their mind about reporting the attack to authorities, they would have their rape kit available to them for a longer time. Neave also filed two other bills aimed at providing better care for survivors of sexual abuse. One would streamline the reimbursement process for healthcare facilities and sexual assault nurse examiners who conduct forensic sexual assault exams. The other would require law enforcement officers to be trained on "trauma-informed interviewing techniques" to use when speaking to survivors of rape and sexual violence.   Continue reading...

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