AUSTIN — Sexual assault survivors applauded state lawmakers for a bipartisan effort to create laws that will help survivors navigate the process of reporting crimes and bring attackers to justice.
Sens. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Charles Perry, R-Lubbock; Reps. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, and Donna Howard, D-Austin; Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore; and former Sen. Wendy Davis joined the survivors at a news conference Monday as they told their personal stories and how proposed bills could help others.
“We are making progress because of the survivors and the people that are willing to speak out on this issue,” Watson said. “The momentum we’ve made by the powerful, courageous voices of the survivors is creating bipartisan agreement on how we need to address this issue.”
Bills related to sexual assault so far:
- $7.5 million to eliminate wait lists at rape crisis centers and $1 million to expand access to sexual assault nurse examiners, filed by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound (Senate Bill 1)
- $7.5 million to eliminate wait lists at rape crisis centers and require the state to develop a plan to examine sexual assault investigation and prosecution practices in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and El Paso, by Zerwas (House Bill 1)
- Establishing a statewide telehealth center for sexual assault forensic medical examination, by Nelson (Senate Bill 71)
- Requiring public and private colleges to adopt sexual assault and harassment policies, protocol for reporting and a prevention and outreach program, filed by Watson (Senate Bill 585)
- Training peace officers for family violence and sexual assault assignments, by Watson (Senate Bill 586) and Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas (House Bill 282)
- Establishing the Office of Sexual Assault Survivors in the criminal justice division of the governor’s office, to be filed by Howard
Rose Luna, CEO of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, said progress has been made in laws regarding domestic violence and child sexual assault, but not so much for adult sexual assault.
“Sexual assault is a highly prevalent crime here in Texas,” Luna said. “This issue requires the political will of elected officials, leaders across the state at the local level. I’d like to give my deepest gratitude to all survivors who come forward to create change. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here celebrating these bipartisan survivor-centered bills to address sexual assault.”
Ashka Dighe, a member of the University of Texas’ chapter of It’s On Us, a campaign to end sexual assault, said she has spoken with more than a dozen UT students who reported their assaults under Title IX guidelines and all had negative experiences.
“Every person I spoke to had a complaint about the disappointing experience they had working with Title IX officers or their professors,” she said.
Dighe thanked Watson for his bill that would require colleges to adopt certain protocol for reporting and responding to reports of sexual assault.
Tatum Zeko, president of UT’s chapter of Deeds — a branch of Wendy Davis’ advocacy group Deeds Not Words — said she was glad that the Texas government was listening to survivors.
“Sexual assault happens to every political ideology,” Zeko said. “I’m glad to know we have state senators like Sen. Watson working across the aisle on these bills and involving student voices in the process.”