Texas drivers can opt to help reduce rape kit backlog when renewing license

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STATEWIDE - Texans can help the state clear its backlog of sexual assault kits, simply by renewing their driver license.

Texas leaders have spent the better part of this decade clearing a rape kit backlog that dates back to the 1990s. As of 2011, Chris Kaiser of Texas Association Against Sexual Assault said the state had 20,000 DNA samples waiting to be tested.

"It is really important to remember that each one of these kits represents a sexual assault survivor," he said.

Kaiser said most of the 2011 backlog has been cleared, but more cases are added every day.

"To the Legislature's credit, when they realized this was an issue several years ago, they have really taken some bold and encouraging action to address it," Kaiser said.

Lawmakers committed $11 million in the past six years to clear the backlog. This past legislative session, they approved another $4 million to address more recent sexual assault kits.

"This is one of those issues where truly the answer is throwing more money at the problem," Kaiser said.

As of Sept. 1, they're also allowing Texas drivers to help process DNA kits by donating to a fund when renewing their license.

"This is one way that everybody can see it on paper and know it is an ongoing issue," said Kristen Lenau of The SAFE Alliance. "It hasn't gotten a whole lot better, and it is something we need to be addressing."

A check of the DPS website Monday found the applications for both renewals and new licenses is outdated and does not include the required contribution line.

Lenau said accepting public contributions does not exempt the state from its responsibility to ensure justice is brought to sexual assault survivors in a timely manner, but she hopes it will speed up the waiting period those survivors face.

This is what she tells every client she meets.

"This is something that you are looking at for several months or possibly years, depending on the area you live in," Lenau said. "That is heartbreaking for people to have to hear that."