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Texas Law Sets New Requirements for Rape Kit Testing & Preservation, Updates Sexual Assault Statute of Limitations

Sexual assault victims in Texas now have greater legal protections than ever, thanks to a new groundbreaking law—House Bill (HB) 8—that took effect on September 1st.

Also known as the Lavinia Masters Act, this law now sets strict requirements regarding testing and preserving rape kits.

It also changed the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases, empowering more victims to seek justice through the criminal courts

Through the Lavinia Masters Act, as well as SB 1259, Texas has stepped up to become a national leader in the fight against sexual assault.

Inspiration for the Texas Lavinia Masters Act

Representative Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) spearheaded HB 8 and named it for Lavinia Masters, a sexual assault survivor who was raped in 1985 at the age of 13. Masters’ assault occurred at knifepoint in her family’s home during the middle of the night.

For more than 20 years after the assault, Masters’ rape kit sat on a shelf at the Dallas Police Department (DPD). It was only tested when Masters called the DPD in 2005 after seeing a report about the massive backlog for rape kit testing in Texas.

When Masters’ kit was finally tested, she found out that:

  • The statute of limitations for her case had already expired, so no criminal charges for her case would be filed against the attacker.
  • The attacker was a serial rapist who was already in prison.

Masters’ experience inspired her to become an advocate for sexual assault victims. At a press conference for HB 8, Masters stated, “Getting these rape kits off the shelf means giving someone their life back.”

New Rules for Rape Kits in Texas & New Hope for Sexual Assault Survivors

With the Lavinia Masters Act now in effect in Texas:

  • Labs must test rape kits within 90 days of receiving them.
  • All collected rape kits must be kept for 40 years or until the statute of limitations expires, whichever period is longer.
  • The statute of limitations (SoL) will be suspended while rape kits await testing. The SoL for a given case will only start once the associated kit has been tested.

Additionally, HB 8 requires an updated audit of the backlog of untested rape kits in Texas. The last audit, conducted in 2011, revealed a backlog of more than 18,000 untested rape kits statewide. At the time, $11 million had been designated to address this backlog.

With the enduring backlog and the Lavinia Masters Act, however, the state legislature has recognized that additional funding must be designated to address the issue. Consequently, $54 million has been allocated for training and staffing more rape kit testers.

When Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 8 on June 4, 2019, he stated:

There are certain issues that are just Texas issues. One is public safety… It doesn’t matter what political party, what race, what geography you come from. Everybody wants justice, everybody wants safety.

Rep. Neave expressed similar thoughts during the bill signing, saying:

This legislation, ladies and gentlemen, is for the women who have waited for years for justice, for all the women who were not believed… This sexual violence does not pay mind to party, to wealth, to age. Today, we are saying to the women of Texas, not one more rape kit untested, not one more shot at justice left untested.

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