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Dallas Leads Texas In Alarming Backlog Of Untested Rape Kits, Some Decades Old

Cities in Texas are working to reduce the high numbers of backlogged rape kits, with untested kits in Dallas going as far back as 1996.

The quantity of untested rape kits in Texas, particularly in Dallas, is quite alarming. The significant factors contributing to this backlog, which extended into the thousands, included the pandemic, understaffing, and insufficient funding, as cited by law enforcement agencies, including the Dallas Police Department.

Dallas currently holds the most backlogged sexual assault kits in Texas, with thousands still awaiting progress. The number grew considerably amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with the lack of funding allocated to staffing and other resources limiting the number of kits that could be processed. As time continued on, so did victims’ turmoil as they yearned for information. In December 2022, to rectify this issue, with untested kits going so far back as 1996, the Dallas City Council designated $2.3 million to speed up testing rates.

Over 1,800 kits, split between 1996-2011 and 2011-2019, needed testing at the beginning of 2023. The revelation of this backlog issue was unveiled in 2022, despite Texas legislation H.B.8 requiring sexual assault kits to be tested within a certain timeframe. The law was named after Lavinia Masters, a sexual assault survivor and advocate who waited decades for her kit to be tested and processed.

“I still say that one is too many,” shared Masters to the publication. “I know we’ve come a long way, and I applaud that. I’m grateful for that, but still, I don’t see the excuse of having any kits on the shelf. I know you tell me it’s about training or funding or outsourcing the testing to different labs, but having so many kits on the shelf just doesn’t rest well with me. It just doesn’t.”

Cities across Texas have been urged to do more to reduce the number of backlogged kits, with $3 million awarded to the state’s Department of Public Safety. The Debbie Smith Act, reauthorized this year after first being passed in 2019, also pushes for rape kits to be prioritized for testing, but more must be done to end the systemic lag in processing.

“You have to find a balance,” continued Masters. “You can’t say that we [sexual assault victims with older, backlogged rape kits] aren’t a priority. This time next year, you could have another thousand rape kits from victims that come forward, and what happens then? The new cases now will be the old cases then.”

Victims, especially from Black and brown communities, continue to face obstacles when seeking answers and justice from sexual assault, say experts, but the advocacy from Masters and local elected officials is making strides to ensure the process does not remain at a standstill.

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