Gov. Abbott Signs Bills to Help Victims of Sex Trafficking, to End Rape Kit Backlog

New laws would aim to protect victims, prosecute offenders

In North Texas Tuesday Gov. Greg Abbott signed five bills into law, each designed to help the victims of sex crimes.

"It doesn't matter what your politics are. It just matters what your commitment is," Gov. Abbott said after he signed the bills. "We are proud to make Texas synonymous with the word justice."

The new laws make so-called "stash houses," where victims of human trafficking might be kept, illegal. Another law cracks down on online trafficking and promotion of prostitution by punishing the purveyors and  "johns," while giving victims a path to clear their own records for crimes associated with being a victim of human trafficking.

"Today we are sending a message to the women of Texas that your voices are being heard, that we believe you, that the state of Texas is legislating justice," state Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Mesquite) said.

Neave was an author of House Bill 8, which adds staffing and money for the forensic testing of rape kits. Neave named the bill after Dallas rape survivor, Lavinia Masters, who was sexually assaulted when she was 12 years old. Her rape kit went untested for 20 years.

"I was devastated to think that the police department hadn't done anything for me," Masters said. "And [my rape kit] was actually set on a shelf three days after my rape had been reported."

These are the bills that will be signed during an official ceremony in Dallas, according to the governor’s office:

Senate Bill 20 "enhances tools to fight online sex trafficking, increases the penalties for buyers and creates a process for victims to clear their records of certain offenses committed solely as a victim on trafficking."

House Bill 8 "will tackle the rape kit backlog in Texas by requiring an audit of untested kits, establishing timelines for results to be submitted and extending the statute of limitations."

House Bill 1590 "creates a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force within the Office of the Governor to catalog services, identify gaps and coordinate efforts across the state to strategically address sexual assault."

House Bill 2613 "directs forfeited proceeds from stash houses to services that aid victims of human trafficking."

Senate Bill 71 "establishes a statewide telehealth center to expand victim access to specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners."

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