Texas turns to crowdfunding for rape kit backlog

Texas hopes to take advantage of crowdfunding to help pay for testing on a backlog of rape kits in the state.

A new law authored by Democratic State Rep. Victoria Neave from Mesquite gives residents an easy way to donate $1 or more when applying for or renewing a driver’s license or registering a vehicle.

They can simply check a box to contribute and the money goes to a statewide grant program for testing evidence in sexual assault cases.

After a sexual assault, a rape kit is developed from a four- to a six-hour examination of the victim for DNA from their body and clothes. The tests are expensive but can lead to catching a rapist or clearing people who are wrongly accused.

With hundreds of new cases each month across Texas, the number of cases of rape kits waiting to be tested keeps growing.

Some women like Lavinia Masters wait years for their kits to be tested because local police departments simply do not have the money to test every kit. Masters said she was raped at the age of 13 by a stranger who broke into her home. Her rape kit sat untested for 21 years. She’s overjoyed by the new law.

"To find out that my kit sat on the shelf for over 21 years is disheartening. I still get emotional. I am like turning flips right now on the inside because this has been a fight,” she said. “I want to make sure we get these kits off the shelf. People need their lives back. We are not just trinkets that are sitting there collecting dust.”

Neave said she believes Texans have compassion and that just one dollar here or there could really make a big difference to help bring justice to victims all across the state.

"Sexual assault is one of the most atrocious acts that can be committed against a woman. We know what many sex assaults go unreported,” Neave said. “So once an individual gets to the actual point of reporting that they are a victim of a sexual assault and the undergoing a very personal and invasive sexual assault exam, to just allow that evidence to sit there untested is absolutely unacceptable."

State law now requires new rape cases to be submitted for testing in 30 days. This past session, lawmakers approved $4.2 million to cover costs which run between $300 and $2,000, depending on the amount of DNA available.

Neave hopes Texans getting a license and registering vehicles will bring in at least $1 million or more each year.

“We're hopeful as our community is watching this that you can take a moment to contribute a dollar or any amount to help us bring justice to survivors of sexual assault,” she said.

“Without any advertising at all, we've already received 8,900 donations totaling about $25,000,” explained Amanda Arriaga with the DPS.

License applications already had several checkboxes for people to support other causes like veterans or organ donation. The new rape kit option is expected to generate over $1 million a year.

Neave also hopes to set up a GoFundMe account by February for people who would like to donate directly.