Editorial: New rape kit law doesn’t fix backlog problem

RapeKitEditorialComicVictims of rape and sexual assault now have expanded opportunities on where they can go for treatment and collection of a rape kit thanks to SB 1191 that went into effect on Sept 1.

This bill requires all hospitals with an emergency room have staff trained in basic forensic evidence collection from sexual assault victims.

It is important to note that the standard set in SB 1191 is less rigorous then what is required for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. There are currently two SANEs practicing in McLennan County and a total of 312 in the entire state.

We applaud this new bill because it helps ensure that victims will still have access to care and collection of a rape kit even if they live in communities that don’t have a SANE program.

Victims can also show up at a hospital not designated in a communitywide plan as the primary health care facility in the community for treating sexual assault survivors and receive treatment.

We also applaud the $11 million appropriated in the current biennial budget to the Texas Department of Public Safety for the analysis of thousands of old rape kits.

However, this is just one step in a long series of necessary steps that state and local agencies need to take to help ensure that a backlog does not occur again.

It is also important to finish clearing out the already existing backlog that numbers at least 15,900 with estimates as high as 20,000 backlogged rape kits in Texas alone, as reported by The New York Times.

The process of collecting the evidence in a rape kit is an invasive, time-consuming process that can last upwards of four to six hours. After that, the likelihood that the rape kit will sit around untested is unreasonably high.

If a rape kit is processed at all, it can take up to six months to a year before the results come back, even though results are technically possible in a week.

Furthermore, when a victim comes forward to have a rape kit collected and agrees to talk to the police, they have to retell their story numerous times to numerous people including doctors, nurses, police officers, detectives, lawyers and counselors. This forces victims to relive this heinous crime repeatedly.

While a portion of the counties in Texas (69 out of 254 counties) have SANE and Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART), not every county does. Having nurses that have undergone the training and practice to become SANE-certified provides a benefit to victims that seek assistance.

Also, having a trained response team provides a multidisciplinary collaboration between local sexual assault programs, law enforcement agencies, district/county attorneys, healthcare facilities and other community stakeholders.

It is time we, as Texans, take this crime seriously and hold our state and local agencies accountable to ensure every victim that comes forward is treated with dignity and respect and not allow the victim to be revictimized by the system.

We believe there are multiple steps that need to take place.

First, the state Legislature needs to adopt a mandatory testing time-frame of a few weeks at maximum for all rape kits, regardless of whether the person ultimately chooses to press charges.

Also, guidelines need to be implemented to help limit the number of times a victim is required to tell their story.

Specialty-trained nurses are extremely important for supporting the victims of rape and sexual assault as they go through the initial stages of treatment and undergo the collection of a rape kit.

The Legislature should providing funding to get more nurses trained and certified as an Office of the Attorney General (OAG) Certified SANE throughout the state. Employment of a SANE should also be made a requirement for every hospital in Texas.

Furthermore, having a coordinated collaboration among agencies is important to ensure that everyone involved is on the same page. It also helps ensure that victims who come forward do not fall through the cracks.

As a result, the Legislature should make these SART teams mandatory for every community.

Additionally, there have been significant scientific breakthroughs in attempts to help prevent at least some rapes and sexual assaults. A pair of Israeli scientists have produced a straw/stirrer which utilizes nanotechnology to detect the presence of several popular date-rape drugs.

There is a company in the US called DrinkSavvy that has a line of products that are designed to do the same thing including plastic party cups, glass cups, straws/stirrers, and can even make beverage manufactures bottles and cans DrinkSavvy as well.

Once products like the ones under development by the Israeli scientists or by DrinkSavvy become commercially available, they need to be independently tested to verify their success.

Once verified, bars, clubs, restaurants and sporting locations in Texas should be compelled to use a certified product to help decrease the number of rapes and sexual assaults as a result of date-rape drugs. College campuses should also be encouraged to adopt one or more of these products.

The average Texan is not off the hook in all of this. We need to call on our representatives in the Legislature to get these recommendations enacted into law.

We also need to stop engaging in victim blaming and perpetuating the “keep silent” mentality that surrounds rape.

We should encourage and support victims when they come forward rather than telling them to keep quiet, or that if they “hadn’t worn that short skirt” or “been out drinking” they would not have been raped.

When we engage in victim blaming and do not support victims when they do come forward, we perpetuate the cycle of rape and sexual assault as well as the cycle of revictimization. A victim of rape did not do anything to deserve being raped.

Finally, if you become a victim of rape or sexual assault, do not hesitate to call 911 or go to the emergency room to seek out help. Know that The Baylor Lariat and other Texans stand behind you and support you as you go through the process of rebuilding your life after being a victim of this heinous crime.