Texas Wants to Crowdsource Funding for Untested Rape Kits
When Texas public safety officials revealed in August of 2011 that there was an enormous backlog of untested rape kits, state legislators allocated additional funding to process them. Over 20,000 of the forensic evidence collections — which are obtained through a rigorous medical exam — had been sitting untested, and the state government reserved $11 million in 2013 to address the problem.
Fast-forward to today: Of the numerous rape kits that were stuck in limbo more than five and half years ago, at least 3,500 of them remain untested. And as The Texas Tribune notes, there is no public information about how many additional kits have been collected in the years since. Though the state legislature has allotted an additional $4.219 million in the state's proposed budget, it's unlikely this subsequent funding will adequately cover costs. In response, some lawmakers are now attempting to combat this problem through an unprecedented and disturbing means: crowdfunding.
“I wish that this was an issue that we didn’t even have to talk about today, but it is,” State Representative Victoria Neave, the Dallas Democrat behind new legislation that would solicit donations for rape-kit testing, said on Monday.
In an effort to put a larger dent in the backlog, the bill would give Texans applying for or renewing drivers' licenses the option to donate $1 — or more if they choose — to rape-kit testing. These donations are expected to generate about $1 million annually, but that won't go very far in covering the costs of testing backlogged kits throughout the entire state. According to the Tribune, a federal grant in the same amount was given last year to handle rape kits in just Dallas County. And in 2015 the Manhattan District Attorney's office gave $2 million to the city of Austin so they could process over 3,000 backlogged kits.
In addition to the DMV donations, other lawmakers are looking to further the crowdfunding options to a more personal level by allowing sexual assault victims to pay for testing or reach out to friends and family members for the funding.
"I'm sure there's a lot of people that would say, 'You know what, I'll pay for it,'" Democratic State Representative Terry Canales said, adding, "By no means do I think we should pass the obligation on to the average citizen, but the more options we have, the better off we are."
Backlogged rape kits are not unique to Texas — in fact, last fall then President Barack Obama signed a historic law meant to protect those who have faced sexual assault and give them the right to the forensic evidence collection without being forced to pay for it themselves. Though Neave, Canales, and other lawmakers are attempting to circumvent a legislative body that, on the whole, shows little interest in bringing justice to victims of sexual assault, turning to crowdfunding to process thousands of untested rape kits statewide is not the correct way to address the issue. As Goodman Holiday told the Tribune on behalf of the Austin Justice Coalition, the proposed legislation “feels just one step removed from holding a bake sale.”
But beyond testing the kits, states also must intensify their efforts to have police investigate cases. As numeroushigh-profilecasesin recent yearshave shown, the legal system is often stacked against sexual assault victims, and greater action needs to be taken by legislators, law enforcement officials, and legal authorities to give these individuals the justice they deserve.
This post has been updated to reflect the amount of funding Texas lawmakers have allocated in the state's proposed budget for backlogged rape kits.
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