There is a backlog of 2,138 untested rape kits in Texas, according to August 2017 data from the Department of Public Safety Crime Lab, and state legislators are working to pass a solution in the coming months.
The largest share of the backlog, comprised of 1,798 untested kits, belongs to the Dallas Police Department, while Austin Police Department currently has no kits waiting to be tested.
Gov. Greg Abbott personally called on members of the Texas Legislature to solve the issue during his State of the State address on Feb. 5.
“One of the most important tools that we have is forensic testing of rape kits,” Abbott said. “And yet, thousands of these kits have languished, untested for years. This session, we must right this wrong. Together we must provide more funding to eliminate the backlog and to deliver justice that has been denied for far too long.”
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, has already introduced a bill to provide funding to eliminate the backlog and speed up the testing process in the future. His proposal, Senate Bill 588, would also make law enforcement upload test results to databases to search for a DNA match.
“It’s ridiculous that we would ask a survivor to undergo a rape kit exam, and then finally get the kit tested only to drop the ball at this stage,” Watson said. “SB 588 addresses this gap by requiring the database comparison to take place within 30 days of the date the kit is analyzed and quality assurance reviews are performed.”
Additionally, Watson’s bill seeks to clarify the rules for rape kit administration.
“SB 588 also improves the overall rape kit testing process by ensuring we have clear parameters governing kit collection, release and storage,” Watson said. “These parameters will help healthcare facilities, law enforcement officers and DPS coordinate as they each play a different, but important role in this process.”
Delaney Davis, the vice president of UT’s chapter of It’s on Us — a sexual assault prevention organization — said eliminating the rape kit backlog could give sexual assault survivors more trust in the system.
“I actually do think that getting rid of the rape kit backlog will signal to survivors that law enforcement and the Legislature are taking the issue of sexual assault and rape seriously,” government sophomore Davis said. “So I don’t know if I can say it’s going to have an immediate effect, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.”
State Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, introduced a companion bill to Watson’s in the House. If both versions pass their respective chambers, Watson said he has no reason to think Abbott would not sign the legislation into law.
“I very much appreciate Gov. Abbott drawing attention to this important issue in his State of the State address,” Watson said. “The public’s growing awareness about this issue is a testament to the great work that survivors and their advocates have done to educate our community.”