Texas Becomes First to Implement Comprehensive Rape Kit Reform

An example sexual assault kit. Many kits go untested for months or years, leaving victims waiting and potentially allowing offenders to escape detection. Source: End The Backlog.
An example sexual assault kit. Many kits go untested for months or years, leaving victims waiting and potentially allowing offenders to escape detection. Source: End The Backlog.

By Melissa Schwartz, endthebacklog.org

The Joyful Heart Foundation today announced that Texas has become the first state in the nation to implement comprehensive rape kit reform. With the passage of H.B. 281, which requires the Department of Public Safety to establish a comprehensive statewide tracking system to monitor rape kits from collection to analysis, Texas has now enacted all six pillars of reform recommended by Joyful Heart and leaders in this field.

“Joyful Heart is proud to stand with State Representative Donna Howard, former State Senator Wendy Davis, and our tireless advocacy partners, including the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, who have fought for years for comprehensive rape kit reform,” said Ilse Knecht, Joyful Heart’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. “With this passage, Texas has demonstrated its commitment to bringing justice to survivors, holding violent perpetrators accountable for their crimes, and promoting public safety for all residents.”

Ending the rape kit backlog requires a coordinated effort and deep commitment at all levels of our government and in communities across the United States. Joyful Heart has developed a national campaign that combines direct legislative efforts, press and media outreach, strategic partnerships, and survivor advocacy. The goal: pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states by 2020.

Joyful Heart’s campaign was developed following a comprehensive review of rape kit reform efforts, as well as interviews with trusted experts across the country—advocates, survivors, prosecutors, investigators, and crime lab personnel—and local, state and national leaders. The assessment formalized six essential pillars for comprehensive rape kit reform:

  1. Annual statewide audit: Inventory all untested rape kits periodically to understand the scope of the problem and monitor progress.
  2. Mandatory testing of backlogged kits: Eliminate the existing backlog by requiring law enforcement agencies to submit all previously untested kits to the lab, and requiring that these kits be tested.
  3. Mandatory testing of new kits: Prevent future backlogs by requiring law enforcement agencies to promptly submit all newly collected kits to the lab, and mandating the lab test these kits within a specific timeframe.
  4. Tracking system: Ensure that hospitals, law enforcement, and labs are using the same system to track rape kits. Build in a way for survivors to check the status of their kits throughout the process, from collection to analysis.
  5. Victims’ right to notice: Grant victims the right to receive information about the status and location of their rape kits.
  6. Funding for reform: Appropriate state funding to address these issues.

“Since 2011, Texas legislators have worked to implement pieces of rape kit reform. Today, Texas becomes the first state to pass all key pillars necessary to truly address a state’s untested sexual assault kits,” said Knecht. “In particular, the tracking of rape kits mandated by H.B. 281 is critical. Only after law enforcement agencies track and account for the untested kits in their custody can communities begin to take steps to test those kits, hold offenders accountable, and bring justice to sexual assault survivors whose cases have languished, often for years—or even decades.”

Joyful Heart has created the premier national resource about the rape kit backlog, which includes an interactive map and resources for survivors, legislators, and the media. Learn more at ENDTHEBACKLOG.org.

The mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation is to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever. Visit www.joyfulheartfoundation.org.

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