TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — On Thursday, Travis County commissioners passed an item funding positions for an additional attorney and two victim counselor positions in the District Attorney’s Office.
These new positions will particularly focus on sex assault cases and cases involving family violence between intimate partners.
In June 2021, Travis County settled a $580,000 lawsuit with 14 sex assault survivors.
About half of those funds went toward policy changes within the DA’s Office. DA José Garza said the office would pursue the following initiatives as part of that:
- Begin notifying survivors any time there is a significant update to their cases
- Regularly release data to the public about how sexual assault cases are being handled
- Put every one of its staff members through special training, so they’re qualified to work with sexual assault survivors in a trauma-informed way
- Work closely with the women involved in the settlement to make sure the county is upholding high standards for handling future sexual assault cases
The new positions came from an agreement about a contract with the Office of Violence Against Women for the improving criminal justice responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking grant program in the District Attorney’s Office, according to the commissioners’ court agenda for Tuesday.
“It’s a good start,” said Amanda Lewis, the statewide community organizer for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.
She said the recent lawsuits should continue to serve as the “north star” for city and county officials when it comes to the decision-making around sexual assault resources in the legal and law enforcement systems.
“Something we hear all the time is that survivors aren’t getting as much info as they would like about their cases, sometimes dealing with folks that aren’t as sensitive to their issues and needs in those offices,” she said.
Garza said the additional staffing should help with issues like that.
“It’s crucial that we meet the needs of survivors,” he said.
The new positions are completely grant-funded for three years, according to county documents.
Garza said his office currently has 17 victim witness counselors, and he’s thrilled to add two more.
“We have an obligation to meet [survivors’] needs and to begin to work with them through that trauma to help them navigate through our criminal legal system,” he said.
Lewis said she thinks the additional resources are the “right direction” but hopes to see the city and county continue to build on lessons learned from the lawsuits.
“Requires deeper systemic change and only time will tell if small steps will add up to better experiences for survivors as they navigate the system,” said Lewis.
Garza said his office has already begun to look at candidates and hopes to get the positions filled “as soon as possible.”