A state law that crowdfunds money for rape kit testing has collected almost a quarter-million dollars in its first five months, according to the bill's author, state Rep. Victoria Neave.
The state has long been faced with a backlog of untested rape kits, which are gathered by police through invasive, hours-long exams of sexual assault victims and cost anywhere between $500 and $2,000 to test. The most recent data made available by the Texas Department of Public Safety shows a backlog of more than 3,500 untested rape kits statewide — meaning there may be even more untested kits in Texas today.
To address this problem, a program spearheaded by Neave allows Texans applying for or renewing their driver’s license the option to donate $1 or more toward rape kit testing. The program has collected more than $234,956 as of June 2018, Neave said.
“Cost was the most-cited reason for not getting these rape kits tested,” Neave, a Democrat from Dallas, told The Texas Tribune earlier this week. “Sexual assault happens every single day, and the numbers continue to increase. There still isn’t enough funding right now to get all of the kits tested.”
Since the grant program formally launched in January, more than 85,000 Texans have donated, with several thousand contributing $10 or more to the cause, Neave said.
The money collected will go to a “dedicated testing evidence account” controlled by the state comptroller. The Governor's Criminal Justice Division will then distribute the funds to qualifying crime labs and agencies on an application basis.
“It’s really special to see how small $1 contributions can add up and make a meaningful impact on the lives of women here in Texas,” Neave said. “And not just women, but all survivors who will benefit from getting their kits tested.”
A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott’s office told the Tribune that none of the money has been released yet but that application requests are set to go out July 1.
"Sexual assault evidence collection kits provide our law enforcement and prosecutors with a critical tool for identifying and prosecuting offenders,” Abbott said in January. “Supporting our survivors and providing law enforcement the resources they need is and always will be a cornerstone of my administration.”
Under Neave’s grant program, money is collected by both the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. And on Friday, Neave announced a partnership with Deeds Not Words, a nonprofit founded by former state Sen. Wendy Davis, to create a GoFundMe account for Texans hoping to donate to rape kit testing outside of DMV operations.
“This is an issue I worked on quite a lot when I was in the Texas Senate, and I wish I could say we made the progress I would’ve liked to have seen, but unfortunately, we still have not,” Davis said. “Should it be an individual's responsibility to voluntarily donate to this? I wish it weren’t, but until the state steps up, I think it’s important for those of us who care about this issue to put some resources forward.”
Davis told the Tribune earlier this week that the money collected through the “Clear the Kits” campaign will go to a separate account under Deeds Not Words’ name. The money will be distributed monthly to law enforcement agencies identified by the governor’s office, she said.
“We’ve made a commitment to people as we’re reaching out and asking for their precious dollars that every dollar they send will go directly to the testing of the kits,” Davis said.