Sign the petition, end the backlog

Written by Antwon R. Martin

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.

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The best hope for Austin sexual assault survivors to see their cases prosecuted lies in two pending budget amendments. In an ongoing effort to reopen the Austin Police Department’s DNA lab and clear an ever-growing backlog of rape kits, The SAFE Alliance will deliver a petition, signed by supporters like you, to Austin City Council at 4 p.m. today.

We’ll make a second delivery of signatures ahead of Monday’s council meeting, so keep ’em coming.

At the time of this post, just over 500 people have already signed. To be a part of this push for justice in Austin, just click here and follow the instructions. No fuss, no phone calls. Just an expression of your desire to keep our city safe.

What’s next?

Council will vote on a spending plan during the Sept. 12, 13, and 14 meetings, so we need to act fast. SAFE is asking for your immediate help to make sure council members take action to ensure rape kits are processed effectively and in a timely manner. Currently, a backlog of 3,000 untested rape kits are shelved and an additional 1,400 new DNA samples – about half of which are sexual assault related – are waiting to be tested.

At the Sept. 1 meeting, council members listened to testimony from sexual assault survivors, advocates, and community members on the importance of clearing Austin’s massive backlog of rape kits and the need to reopen the recently shuttered DNA lab.

Among the speakers was Paula Marks, a SAFE sexual assault nurse examiner at Eloise House, where sexual assault survivors are given free Sexual Assault Forensic Exams (SAFEs). Marks pleaded with council members to adopt amendments PS1.04 and PS1.07, which would fund a properly staffed DNA lab and outsource the testing of 500 rape kits, respectively.

In her testimony, she described the difficult process survivors go through when being administered a forensic exam after being sexually assaulted. Over a three to five hour exam, survivors are asked invasive questions about the attack, photos are taken of their injuries, and DNA evidence is collected from their body and genitals.

“And the question always comes up, ‘When will I get my results?’” Marks said. “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.”

How we got here

Following a state audit that revealed improper handling of testing in APD’s DNA lab, the police department closed the testing facility in June. SAFE Vice President of Community Services Coni Stogner said the understaffed lab took between 12 and 18 months to process evidence prior to the lab’s closure.

If Austin City Council approves PS1.04 and PS1.07, it could still take four or more years to work through the backlog. And let’s not forget, that backlog is growing on a daily basis. Eloise House sees between 50 and 60 survivors per month, sometimes more.

Click the button below to sign the petition and let our city council members know how important PS1.04 and PS1.07 are to the people of Austin.

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We at SAFE believe these amendments are critical to providing justice to survivors of sexual assault and to achieving our vision of a just, safe community free from violence and abuse. SAFE operates the Forensic Nursing and Advocacy Program, which provides rape exams for sexual assault survivors in Central Texas. We see firsthand the impact of excessive delays in processing these kits, and that’s why we strongly believe the council should approve these amendments.