AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin voted Thursday to approve a settlement for 15 women who sued for the mishandling of their sex assault investigations between 2006 and 2019.

“Absolutely a win for survivors today,” said Marina Garrett – a survivor herself.

The lawsuits allege the system failed them. None of their cases were prosecuted.

The settlement awarded $825,000 to be shared among the 15 plaintiffs and an additional $50,000 to their attorneys.

Since the lawsuit came forward, both the District Attorney’s Office and the Austin Police Department have changes policies and procedures to prioritize survivors and eliminate rape kit backlog.

According to the news release about the settlement, the City of Austin has spent $3.5 million since 2019 “to improve APD investigations of sexual assaults and has now earmarked another $862,000 for future improvements.”

“All of the things that needed to be illuminated and be fixed could actually come to light and be out in the open,” said Jenny Ecklund, the lead attorney representing the survivors.

The settlement also involves an external audit of the new policies and procedures from the Police Executive Research Forum, Women’s Law Project and Wellesley Centers for Women. That analysis is expected to be published in May.

Below is a list of some specific changes APD has made to keep sex assault investigations survivor-focused.

  • Victim services counselor now reports directly to APD chief
  • Cold Case Unit
  • Beefed up staff for Sex Crimes Unit
  • Streamlined communication process between department and survivors
  • APD required to request Victim Services Crisis Response Team to respond to sex crime calls when officers do
  • Option for third party and/or APD victim services counselor to sit in on interview with survivor
  • Creation of soft interview room for survivors
  • Additional training

“I feel horrible for the survivors of sexual assault,” said Chief Joseph Chacon. “As a department, we really needed to grow, we really needed to get better.”

KXAN asked him what he plans to personally do to make sure these standards are upheld. He tells KXAN he will consistently update the City Council publicly with the status of the new efforts.