In accord with her legislative track record of bringing justice to victims of sexual assault, gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis announced a proposal that would end the statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault offenses in Texas, earlier this week.
"As governor [...] I will classify sexual assault at the same level as other heinous crimes such as murder, manslaughter, and human trafficking, which have no statute of limitations,” said Davis during a press conference in Dallas on Wednesday.
The current statute of limitations for rape in the state is 10 years, meaning after a decade a criminal can evade prosecution. No statute of limitations applies in cases of sexual assault against a child or in cases where tested DNA does not match anyone in the system. The time-restriction on the ability to prosecute, which critics say amounts to assigning an expiration date on the assault, allows some criminals to go unpunished. Davis pointed to several instances of rapists absconding from the crime in Texas, including the case of a Dallas-area man who admitted to kidnapping and raping a woman in 1992, while an innocent man spent 16 years in prison for his crime, before being exonerated by DNA evidence.
The problem is intensified by the high number of untested rape kits sitting on shelves of law enforcement storage facilities. In 2011, the Fort Worth senator authored legislation that helped speed up processing a backlog of roughly 20,000 of these kits statewide, and ensured the kits be brought to the lab by police within 30 days. Davis also proposed a measure to require certification for sexual assault nurse examiners.
During the most recent legislative session, Davis authored a law that would allow sexual assault victims to access care at any hospital, and would require providers to be trained on forensic evidence collection. She also authored legislation that says law enforcement must inform rape survivors about the status of their rape kit testing. There are an estimated 700 untested rape kits in Austin. Nationwide, the Department of Justice estimates some 400,000 rape kits have gone untested.
"While the bills I authored are helping to address the backlog of rape kits, the fact that we would throw survivors' trauma and courage on a shelf for months or years without a second thought is offensive to them and to everything we say we stand for,” said Davis. “But then to turn around and make survivors pay the price for our failure and neglect by denying them justice is almost criminal in itself. Eliminating the statute of limitations for rape will help to ensure these criminals are brought to justice no matter how long ago they committed their crime."
Davis made headlines earlier this month when her first campaign ad depicted her Republican opponent Attorney General Greg Abbott siding with a corporation over a rape victim while serving on the Texas Supreme Court. The Abbott campaign has responded to Davis’ statute of limitations proposal with his own record of defending sexual assault victims: "Victims of sexual assault in Texas have no greater advocate than Greg Abbott, who as Attorney General has spearheaded the arrests of over 4,500 sex offenders and awarded over $1 billion to victims of crimes like sexual assault and domestic violence," Abbott spokesperson Amelia Chasse told the Dallas Morning News.
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