Legislative Strides in Texas On Tuesday, June 4, 2019, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed multiple bills into law that will put in place crucial protections for human trafficking and sexual assault survivors in Texas. We at Just Ask Prevention applaud the important steps that Texas is taking by working to center survivors and prosecute the crimes of human trafficking and sexual assault. Texas is one of the US states with the highest amounts of human trafficking, and the Office of the Governor is taking human trafficking very seriously. The Texas Attorney General estimates that at any given time there are 234,000 victims of labor trafficking and 79,000 victims of youth and minor sex trafficking in the state.
When signing the bill, Governor Abbott stated: “Survivors of the horrific crimes of sexual assault and human trafficking deserve justice, and I am committed to protecting Texans and ensuring offenders are punished to the fullest extent of the law. These laws ensure that survivors are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and that they are given a seat at the table as we work to eradicate sexual assault and human trafficking across the Lone Star State.”
These new laws, which will take effect Sept. 1, aim to increase resources to prevent and stop human trafficking, while also expanding victims’ access to specially trained nurse examiners, tackling the rape kit backlog and other services.
What are these laws?
- Senate Bill 20 (Huffman/S. Thompson) enhances tools to fight online sex trafficking, increases the penalties for buyers, and creates a process for victims to clear their records of certain offenses committed solely as a victim of trafficking. Clearing records is an important step because often victims are arrested and prosecuted as criminals instead of being treated as victims. A criminal record makes it exponentially harder to set up a life once a victim has left their trafficking situation making it more likely they will return.
- House Bill 8 (Neave/Nelson) will tackle the rape kit backlog in Texas by requiring an audit of untested kits. When this law goes into effect, labs will be required to test rape kits within 90 days of receiving the evidence, and the legislation removes the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases if the evidence hasn’t been tested. Rape kits also can’t be destroyed for 40 years, or until the statute of limitations expires, whichever is longer.
- House Bill 1590 (Howard/Watson) creates a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force within the Office of the Governor to catalog services, identify gaps, and coordinate efforts across the state to strategically address sexual assault.
- House Bill 2613 (Frullo/Huffman) directs forfeited proceeds from stash houses to services that aid victims of human trafficking.
- Senate Bill 71 (Nelson/S. Thompson) establishes a statewide telehealth center to expand victim access to specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners.
Texas has become synonymous with the word Justice
As Governor Abbot points out, fighting for the rights of human trafficking and sexual assault victims is a non-partisan issue. He states: “It doesn’t matter what your politics are. It just matters what your commitment is… We are proud to make Texas synonymous with the word justice.”
Another powerful statement comes from State Representative Victoria Neave, one of the writers of House Bill 8 when she said:
“Today we are sending a message to the women of Texas that your voices are being heard, that we believe you, that the state of Texas is legislating justice,”
It is inspiring to see the state of Texas take legislative action to protect survivors of human trafficking and sexual assault. Just Ask urges other states to take similar actions to protect survivors in their state.