On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 8 into law, the historic legislation that aims to tackle the problematic backlog of rape kit tests and help better protect victims of sexual assault.
The bill will require an audit of untested rape kits, establish timelines for results to be submitted and extend the criminal statute of limitations.
“We are proud to make Texas synonymous with the word justice,” Abbott said.
Democratic Texas representative Victoria Neave co-authored the bill named 'The Lavinia Masters Act,’ inspired by one woman's story of survival.
“She was raped when she was 12 years old after somebody climbed through a window and raped at knife point. She had a rape kit test conducted, and her rape kit sat on a shelf for more than 20 years before it finally got tested. And by the time that her rape kit was tested, the statute of limitations had already run. Today, we are sending a message to the women of Texas that your voices are being heard, that we believe you,” Neave said.
Neave said on average, roughly 18,000 rapes are reported in Texas every year.
The legislature has now allocated more than $50 million to not only end the current backlog, but prevent future accumulation.
“We’re going to determine the number, the status, the location of every single rape kit. It lays out timelines in every stage of the process from collection, to testing, to analysis to prevent future backlog,” Neave said.
The bill will also issue penalties for those that don't comply with the new law.
Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middletown said the bill aligns with the county's aggressive stance dealing with human trafficking and sexual assault.
“It’s a victory for all victims of sexual assault.There's a chance that these test kits, these rape kits will be tested in a much more rapid fashion so justice can be served more quickly,” Middleton said.
The bill also it also increases the time that DPS maintains rape kits categorized as ‘non-reports’ from two years to five years. It also requires them to provide notice to the rape victim before their kit is destroyed.