Texas passes major legislation aiding sexual assault survivors

Category:  Opinions
Friday, September 13th, 2019 at 11:08 AM

Texas has passed monumental legislation in favor of sexual assault survivors through several House and Senate bills. Senate Bill 405: “Every Sexual Assault Investigation into FBI Database”; Senate Bill 8: “90 Day Recommendation for Rape Kits”; House Bill 8: “Removing Statute of Limitation for Certain Sexual Assaults”; Senate Bill 1802: “Enhanced Punishment for Human Trafficking”; as well as several other bills pertaining to aiding survivors of sexual assault and trafficking went into effect on Sept. 1. 

This wave of legislation tackles some of the biggest issues facing victims in assault cases, such as addressing Texas’s rape kit backlog and increasing oversight to cases of reported sexual assault.

The most obvious and pertinent solution to processing rape kits was to increase funding for rape kit processing centers. There will now be $54 million in grants and state funding set aside for these labs and agencies, as long as the centers effectively file and process their kits within 90 days of being collected. In addition, it was established that survivors can be tested for up to seven days after an assault rather than five.

The 90-day timeline now ensures kits to be processed in time to be used as evidence for related court cases. A new system was developed where a bar code is put on each kit so that the survivor can track where their kit is as it makes its way through evaluation. There are updated guidelines for notifying law enforcement when the kits are done being processed and ready to be used as evidence. There are also mandates for increased training for all law enforcement officers on how to handle sexual assault and trafficking cases.

Previously, survivors were left in the dark as to where their kit was, with many kits never being processed, or being processed past the statute of limitations and rendered as ineligible evidence. This further enforced a cycle of victimization on a systematic level and shows how many holes were left in the fabric of previous legislation.

Agencies with currently untested kits related to active cases must send them to labs by early 2020. There is also a new reporting requirement for law enforcement to enter all reported sexual assaults into an FBI database. Agencies that don’t comply with and follow these updated procedures will find their funding at risk.

Another major win is that the crime of human trafficking is rightfully being considered more heinous, and all human trafficking related offenses will be prosecuted one level higher, meaning that offenders will receive longer and potentially harsher punishments.

The issues being tackled in this legislation are not just exclusive to Texas — every state should be looking at their laws and reforming the areas where the laws routinely bar victims of sex-related crimes from their opportunity to
get justice.

Roughly 20 percent of the United States’ reported human trafficking crimes travel through Texas, according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. The organization Human Trafficking Search cited Texas as the state with the second highest reported human trafficking cases, just behind California. Although it's unclear how much harsher punishments will be and exactly how many years traffickers and violators of these laws will receive, anything is an upgrade from the measly, average “up to five years” sentence many traffickers received in Texas and continue to receive in states like California.

It may be surprising to some that a historically right-leaning state is now looking to aid women and survivors of assault, considering the war many conservatives have waged on women’s reproductive rights, but this legislation shows increasing awareness of how devastating assault is, as well as a possible turn of partisan tides when it comes to support of these issues. Democrat-led states like California are far behind in producing effective legislation, which is both curious and upsetting considering the outrage by state democratic congressmen and women when alleged abuser Brett Kavanaugh was secured as a Supreme Court justice.

It is a reminder of the classic adage, “actions speak louder than words,” especially as known personal-space invader Joe Biden is still being considered as a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Biden is a great example because although he helped write the historic Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994, he has also seen massive scrutiny for both his “he said, she said” comments regarding the Anita Hill case and recent sexual misconduct and groping allegations.

In addition, there are many gaps and loopholes throughout VAWA that are just being patched up by legislation now. As the bill has continually been voted on to be reauthorized over the past 25 years, while other great amendments regarding protections for LGBTQIA+ citizens and Native American rights were added, why were improvements for sexual assault laws neglected? One-time activism isn’t enough to combat the growing and evolving problems associated with sexual assault and trafficking, and what we thought was decent punishment two decades ago is not enough for the enormity of the issue now.

Survivor’s rights are now better informing the laws that we are governed by, increasing the opportunity for justice to those who were done egregiously wrong. This is a huge win for Texan survivors and potential survivors all across the U.S. once other legislators step up and follow in the Lone-Star state’s lead.

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