AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Lavinia Masters is a survivor.
The Dallas resident was raped at knife-point when she was just 13 years old. Her rape kit sat on a shelf, untested, for 21 years.
State Rep. Victoria Neave’s new legislation would tackle the backlog of rape kits in Texas, taking a multi-pronged approach to address current kits and prevent future pileups.
House Bill 8, named after Masters, would initiate an audit to determine the number, status and location of all rape kits in the state of Texas. The “Lavinia Masters Act” would also create time requirements for testing new rape kits to prevent future backlogs.
Masters attended a news conference Tuesday as Neave a Dallas democrat, unveiled the legislation.
“I felt no one cared and everyone forgot about me.”
She explained that if her rape kit had been processed more quickly, her attacker would have been identified by authorities sooner. He was identified in 2005, but the 10-year statute of limitations had expired in her case and she could not press charges.
“Laws such as this one give every victim the opportunity by getting these rape kit logs off the shelf and giving someone their life back.”
Neave’s bill would delay the statute of limitations for certain sexual assault cases until a rape kit is tested. The bill would also prevent law enforcement agencies from destroying rape kits tied to unsolved cases “for not less than 50 years, or until any applicable statute of limitations has expired, whichever period is longer.”
“Every rape kit is not just a number is not just a number sitting on a shelf, every rape kit represents a survivor, every rape kit tells a story,” Neave said Tuesday.
Neave was joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including democrats Donna Howard and Rafael Anchia, and republicans Geanie Morrison and Morgan Meyer.
“On an issue as important as this, this is not Republican, it is not Democrat. It is not urban and it is not rural. It is an issue and an issue we have to address now,” Meyer, R-Dallas, said Tuesday.
“We will show victims everywhere that we are here to support them, that we believe in them and want to do what we can to help them heal,” said State Rep. Minjarez, D-San Antonio. Minjarez and Howard have also filed survivor-friendly legislation.
“We are for women and we are against violence, and that is so important, and don’t tell me we don’t have enough resources,” said Dallas-area republican State Rep. Angie Chen Button.
Neave’s efforts to on this issue have earned the support of Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, whom she thanked during her news conference. The low bill number on House Bill 8 represents a high priority for House leadership.
“There are too many lives at stake for us to be complacent,” she said, adding that there were more than 18,000 reported rapes in 2017.
She has also filed legislation that would streamline the process for sexual assault nurse examiners to apply for reimbursement for forensic sexual assault exams (House Bill 616) and require law enforcement officers to receive “trauma-informed” training for when they interview survivors (House Bill 282).