Editorial other views

The following editorial published in the Beaumont Enterprise on Sept. 17:

It was bad enough that Gov. Greg Abbott bizarrely thinks he can “eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas” instead of taking a realistic approach to this age-old crime — and how it impacts women who are now prohibited from seeking an abortion after six weeks of conception, a brief time period that is usually before most women know they are pregnant. In effect, the new law, which blatantly contradicts the precedent of legal abortion, will force some women — and girls — to bear the child of their rapist whether they want to or not.

Even worse, however, is the news that all this is playing out in a state with nearly 5,300 untested rape kits. That number is appalling enough, but it doesn’t even include the number of untested kits from the 231 law enforcement agencies that did not respond to a state audit for these totals, even though that is required by law.

This backlog is scandalous. Abbott and every elected official in the state should vow to “eliminate” that once and for all. Then once that has been done, every law enforcement agency and prosecutor’s office in Texas should make sure to process all new rape kits quickly so the perpetrators of these heinous crimes might be brought to justice.

The state has made considerable progress on this front after Abbott signed a law in 2019 designed to — here’s that word again — eliminate the backlog in untested rape kits. At one point, there were 19,000 untested kits, an inexcusable total that showed just how little focus was devoted to this serious crime. Getting that number down to 5,300 is progress of sorts, but it’s hardly something that anyone can be satisfied with. The state has allocated $50 million to help test the kits, but the main problem is a shortage of forensic investigators to process them.

The women who have been victimized by this crime should at least know that law enforcement and public officials are doing every possible to find their abusers. With modern technology, it is often possible to find a match between the DNA in the test kit and the other samples of DNA (many from criminals) that have been cataloged. Some rapists attack multiple victims, so finding one of these serial offenders can save many other girls or women from that traumatic experience.

“Each box is not just a box sitting on a shelf,” said state Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas), who has been working on this issue for years. “It represents a survivor’s story. It represents an individual, a family who has been impacted by this. It represents women who are waiting for justice.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court declined to immediately strike down the new Texas abortion law, analysts say it could be months before the court reviews the issue again. With the three conservative justices appointed by President Donald Trump, there’s also no guarantee that legal abortion will be preserved in all states.

While that legal drama plays out, the focus in Texas should be on processing all untested rape kits. If Abbott sees that this backlog is eliminated, he will have truly accomplished something on an issue that deserves the greatest compassion and urgency.

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