Important changes in how sexual assaults are investigated and victims are treated were enacted in Texas in 2019. Advocates of change are hopeful of further momentum in 2021.
The reforms enacted two years ago came on the heels of the #MeToo movement, the Texas Tribune reported. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Austin championed sexual assault reforms two years ago.
The Tribune reported state legislators steered millions of dollars toward tackling a massive rape kit backlog as well as funding sexual assault exams and rape crisis centers.
Supporters of change praised the 2019 session for making unprecedented strides toward helping the victims of sexual assaulting the One Star State.
Advocates and many lawmakers want to continue the momentum as they seek further statutory changes and increased budget allocations. The Tribune notes a move to expand the definition of sexual assault.
Another potential change involves extending the statute of limitations, in other words, the time victims have to report sexual harassment in the workplace. Many sexual assault campaigners want to make sure police continue to have the funds to keep processing a backlog of rape kits as well as boosting the number of locations where forensic sexual assault exams can be conducted.
However, campaigners face many competing priorities. The lawmaker’s list of 2021 legislative priorities is dominated by measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, while this month’s devastating winter storm may result in calls for new legislation to ensure Texans receive better protection from extreme weather.
Kirsten Lenau, a senior policy adviser at the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, highlighted the challenges her organization faces.
“We’re trying our best to manage expectations for our members like everyone is doing this session when it comes to anything getting done outside of the budget,” she told the Tribune. “While we have an ambitious set of priorities … we really don’t know, at this point, what legislation will get passed.”
The report noted over 33% of adult Texans have experienced some form of sexual assault. More than 65% of survivors of assault have experienced sexual assault more than once, according to a report from the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault.
Sexual assault advocacy organizations hope the Legislature will pass laws that implement policy recommendations made over the last two years. The governor’s Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force made 11 recommendations for the 2021 session in a report released last year. One of them is for sexual assault victims to receive exams without approval from law enforcement.
Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, introduced a bill that would expand the definition of sexual assault without consent. The offense would be widened to apply to times when people have sex with someone who is too drunk to consent or withdraws consent, or when caregivers exploit vulnerable people as they help with daily life tasks. Collier filed the bill to reduce sexual assault in Texas and encourage survivors to pursue charges against the perpetrators.
Every year, thousands of people are charged with sexual assault in Texas. This is a very stressful charge for the accused and is often based on the claim of a single witness or a child. Please contact our Dallas-based criminal defense team if you have been accused of sexual assault at (214) 720-9552.