We did it! Austin City Council funds APD DNA lab

Written by Antwon R. Martin

With an outpouring of support from the people of Austin, The SAFE Alliance and our partners have achieved a major victory in our efforts to correct the handling of rape kits and ensure better services for survivors of sexual assault.

We are thrilled to announce the Austin City Council last night passed a budget that included $1.4 million in the 2017 general fund to pay for seven DNA lab analysts and one lab supervisor. This comes after weeks of advocating for the funds as a way to reopen the Austin Police Department’s recently shuttered DNA lab and clear an ever-growing backlog of rape kits.

We have taken a huge step on the path to finding justice for sexual assault survivors in Austin. As momentous as this news is, we know now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

Help us continue fighting for survivors. Give today.

Part of our mission at SAFE is to lead in ending sexual assault in Austin. Yesterday’s vote was a huge win, but it’s only part of our larger mission. At SAFE, we provide forensic exams to survivors of sexual assault, and we advocate for policies like those included in the budget to help support survivors from the moment of the crime to the point of justice and healing.

A critical piece of justice for many survivors is seeing their perpetrators face consequences for their actions. To increase prosecution rates in sexual assault cases, DNA evidence is essential.

The efforts of SAFE, our partners, and the many Austinites who reached out to their council members over the last few weeks made yesterday’s decision possible. Council’s vote to fund APD’s DNA lab was for the survivors.

We have come far, but we still a long way to go. Please, give today.

How we got here

APD shuttered their DNA lab in June following a state audit that found the facility was not up to standards

The SAFE Alliance began advocating at the end of July for two budget amendments to reopen APD’s DNA lab and fund the processing of a backlog of untested DNA and evidence. At the beginning of August, SAFE and our partners were at full tilt advocating for the city to make the backlog of sexual assault kits a priority.

An old backlog of 3,000 rape kits were sitting on the shelf and another 1,400 current pieces of evidence – roughly half of which were sexual assault related – also awaited testing. With a closed DNA lab and more sexual assaults occurring on a daily basis, there was no option but to raise a call to action.

Hundreds of Austinite’s signed our petition, called their council members, sent emails, and filed written correspondence.

In September, brave people like Amy Alanis, Paula Marks, and Andrea Ricuarte delivered testimony to Austin City Council, demanding survivors be a priority in our community. They were joined by many other advocates, survivors, and community members with the same message.

On Monday, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told council members APD was committed to finding money within its existing budget to resolve the sexual assault kit backlog. SAFE CEO Kelly White called this a “great first step.”

And yesterday, Austin City Council voted on a 2017 budget that included $1.4 million to properly reopen the police DNA lab.

We are overjoyed by Council’s decision to accept the following directive introduced by Council Member Gregorio Casar:

“It is the priority of the City Council that all evidence related to sexual assault cases be tested until there is no evidence for sexual assault cases waiting to be tested. The Council intends for the City Manager to provide quarterly updates to Council with the status of the sexual assault evidence backlog and provide the Department’s goals for turnaround time for processing incoming evidence related to sexual assault.”

What’s next?

All we ask now is that you show your continued support. That can mean thanking your council members for reaching this decision. That can mean volunteering. It can be as simple as calling a friend out when they – even inadvertently – promote a rape culture.

We’ll do our part to continue advocating for survivors. If you can make a donation, you can be assured it is going to an essential cause.

Thank you.

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