Texas Legislature Rolls Out Its Plan to Help Victims of Sexual Assault

Texas state legislators are trying to make the process of reporting sexual assault better for victims.
Sexual assault survivors and advocacy groups joined with Republican and Democratic legislators at the Texas Capitol on Monday to tout 20 filed or soon-to-be-filed bills aimed at helping victims of sexual assault seek justice in the aftermath of their attacks.

The proposed changes begin in both the House and Senate versions of the state's two-year budget. The Senate budget, filed by Flower Mound Republican Jane Nelson, allocates $7.5 million to help get rid of lines at Texas' rape crisis centers, and another $1 million to make sexual assault examiner nurses more widely available to Texas residents.

Texas' House budget, filed by Richmond Republican John Zerwas, directs the same $7.5 million to rape crisis centers, in addition to requiring the state to create a plan for better investigating and prosecuting sexual assaults in Dallas, Austin, El Paso, San Antonio and Houston.

"Getting accurate data on campus sexual assault is absolutely essential to solving the problem." — Rylee Trotter

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Additional bills would provide cash to train cops and sheriff's deputies for sexual- and family-violence calls and create a Texas tele-health center to help medical professionals and law enforcement perform sexual-assault examinations.

While previous legislatures have prioritized domestic violence or sexual assault against children, victims rights groups said the state, until this year, has not paid enough attention to adult sexual assaults, especially those in which the victim knows his or her attacker. Survivors of sexual violence, said Rose Luna, CEO of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, have finally spurred the Legislature to action.

"If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be here celebrating these bipartisan, survivor-centered bills to address the crime of sexual assault here [in Texas]," Luna said.

Rylee Trotter, the president of the UT-Austin campus group Not on My Campus, singled out bills from Austin Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson and Houston Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman as helping with the burden faced by victims of sexual assault on college campuses.

Watson's bill would create uniform standards for on-campus sexual-assault investigations, while Huffman's bill would allow universities to report sexual attacks to the state even when the victim refuses to disclose his or her personal information.

"As a survivor who was concerned about maintaining my confidentiality, I chose not to file a report," Trotter said. "If I had the option to have a record of my sexual assault on file without putting myself or the power over my experience in jeopardy, I absolutely would've taken it. Getting accurate data on campus sexual assault is absolutely essential to solving the problem."