UPDATE: On Sept. 12, Chief Acevedo announced that he would find funding within the existing fiscal year’s budget to fund the analysis of the current backlogged sexual assault related cases—and any incurred during the closure of APD’s DNA lab—while the lab remains closed.
On Sept. 14, the Austin City Council passed the 2017 budget, which included $1.4 million in the general fund intended to pay for seven additional analysts and one additional supervisor, per PS1.04.
This is a huge win for survivors of sexual assault and for the advocates and citizens who fought to get these funds in the budget. Your advocacy and your support for The SAFE Alliance is a critical part of this victory. You can help us continue to fight for justice for survivors of sexual assault by making a gift today.
Paula Marks was among the advocates, survivors, and community member who delivered testimony during the Sept. 1 Austin City Council meeting. She asked council members to adopt budget amendments PS1.04 and PS1.07.
Since the testimony, APD has committed to finding funds to clear Austin’s backlog of rape kits and evidence waiting to be tested.
For more information on what led us to this point, read “Closed DNA lab unfunded, rape kits untested, PS1.04 & PS1.07 must pass.”
Below is the testimony Paula Marks gave at the beginning of the month.
The transcript of her testimony:
Good afternoon. My name is Paula Marks. I’m a native Austinite currently residing is District 9. My daughter goes to Maplewood Elementary.
I’m here today to stand in opposition to the budget in its current form and urge the council to adopt PS1.04 and PS1.07.
I’m a sexual assault nurse examiner at Eloise House, the local Sexual Assault Forensic Exam center. I have the privilege of providing compassionate, patient-centered care to brave survivors who come to our clinic.
This includes collecting DNA evidence. I don’t know if everyone knows what happens during these exams, but it is invasive to say the least.
After having been deeply violated, survivors voluntarily come forward for an exam in the pursuit of justice. They are asked to get undressed, give up their clothes to the lab, let me examine their bodies, and collect evidence.
“They are told the exam will help them see justice for their case and prevent future assaults. How do you think they feel when I reveal the truth? It will probably take at least two years, maybe more. We just don’t know because our lab is not functioning correctly.”
They are asked to submit to taking pictures of injuries in their most private areas. I ask detailed questions such as, do you have any recollection of anything penetrating your vagina during the assault? A penis? Hands? An object? Have you had any consensual penetrative sex within the last two weeks? This whole process takes three to five hours.
I inform them that the exams and questions are needed by the lab because they are. The lab needs this personal information, body and genital swabs, for analysis of the Sexual Assault Kit. And the question always comes up: ‘When will I get my results?”
For that question, I have no acceptable answer. They are told the exam will help them see justice for their case and prevent future assaults. How do you think they feel when I reveal the truth? It will probably take at least two years, maybe more. We just don’t know because our lab is not functioning correctly.
“Our goal at Eloise House is to create an environment that removes obstacles, for more survivors to report. How can we feel confident about asking a survivor to come forward with their evidence when it might be put on a shelf, left to collect dust for an indeterminate amount of time?”
I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed to tell an already traumatized person who came to us looking for assistance through this awful chapter of their life that we realistically have no idea when the results will come back. They may never see justice because far too often the legal system cannot perform the necessary prosecutions without the analysis of this evidence we are tasked with collecting.
Our goal at Eloise House is to create an environment that removes obstacles, for more survivors to report. How can we feel confident about asking a survivor to come forward with their evidence when it might be put on a shelf, left to collect dust for an indeterminate amount of time?
Would you put yourself through this process?
Before its closure in June, the lab was able to analyze about 40 cases per month. We cared for 15 rape survivors in the last six days. We see 50 to 60 every month.
The latest audit stated that even if these amendments pass, it would still be four years until the lab would be able to catch up. Four years.
Without these amendments, they will never catch up. The math, simply, does not work.
We all work for the service of justice. Join us in our fight. Process the kits. Pass the amendments. Help us do our job. Thank you.