The Texas law barring abortions at six weeks of pregnancy has women’s rights advocates up in arms for a number of reasons, not least because it makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
For Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, that’s not a big issue, since “Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets,” Abbott said last week.
How, these advocates ask, will Texas do that when it has more than 5,000 rape kits still untested, languishing on shelves around the state? And when there have been as many as 18,000 incidents of rape in the state in a year?
“That would be a beautiful thing to see, but it’s not going to happen,” Lavinia Masters, a rape survivor and an advocate for other survivors, said of Abbott’s promise. “It’s not realistic.”
Statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) show that as of August 2021, there were 5,298 untested sexual assault kits, including 1,716 kits within the DPS crime lab system and 3,582 unsubmitted kits that remain with law enforcement agencies across the state.
And that’s not counting the kits that could still be untested at the 231 law enforcement agencies that did not respond to the state audit, although it is required by law.
Masters was 13 when she was raped by someone who broke into her Dallas home and held a knife to her throat. Her rape kit sat on a shelf for more than 20 years before it was tested.
Her rapist, finally identified by the kit evidence, was already in prison, having gone on to rape two other women.
The statute of limitations had expired in her case.
A bill Abbott signed in 2019 designed to audit untested rape kits across the state and set strict testing requirements was named the Lavinia Masters Act. Masters was there when he signed the bill, and she is a member of Abbott’s sexual assault survivor’s task force.
Texas state Rep. Victoria Neave has been working alongside Masters for years to clear the rape kit backlog. At one point, there were about 19,000 untested kits.
“Each box is not just a box sitting on a shelf. It represents a survivor’s story. It represents an individual, a family who has been impacted by this,” Neave told CNN. “It represents women who are waiting for justice.”
The state is making the rape kits a priority, Neave said, and it has approved $50 million to help test the kits, but part of the problem is a shortage of forensic investigators to process them, she said.
Masters said she still gets angry when she thinks about her case.
“I know that you didn’t care about me and what happened to me,” she said of officials. “And so you just shelved me. And I know that’s part of my passion, and why I get so angry with this.”
Beyond the backlog, the new Texas law banning abortions after six weeks even in the case of rape and incest, infuriates Masters. She said she knows that if she had gotten pregnant from that rape, she wouldn’t have known in time to end the pregnancy.
She would have had to carry and deliver her rapist’s child, at 13 years old.
“I would be forced to carry that baby,” Masters said. “That’s not even common sense.”
Neave voted against the new legislation, which she said will lead to women again attempting dangerous abortions on themselves without medical help.
“That legislation is taking us backwards,” she said. “And the fear and concern that we have is that if you cannot have a medical doctor perform that procedure, that we’re going to have women doing it in a garage, or going back to the era of the hangers. And that is a concern.”
CNN’s Randi Kaye and Danelle Garcia reported from Dallas, and Theresa Waldrop reported and wrote from Atlanta.