SAN ANTONIO – In Texas, it is not mandatory for rape kits to be traced if a victim has died. It’s a surprising gap in the law that a state senator and Texas families say they won’t allow to continue.
“My daughter Molly Jane -- on April 10, 2017, I discovered her body in her apartment. We learned the following day her death was ruled a homicide. She had been strangled, and she had been raped,” said Tracy Matheson.
For the past four years, pain and anger have pushed Matheson to advocate for sexual assault victims. She and her family helped push legislation like Molly Jane’s law, which mandates better communication between law enforcement agencies.
Now, Matheson is focused on bills like Texas Senate Bill 409, which state Sen. Jose Menendez recently filed. The bill would mandate tracked rape kits of deceased victims.
“There are some labs that do track the kits for deceased victims, but it’s not in the statute. So, they have a choice in a sense, and that’s just wrong in my opinion. We have to be committed to ensuring every victim receives justice,” Menendez said.
Texas is one of many states across the nation dealing with backlogs in the processing of rape kits.
“The backlog is just sort of the tip of the iceberg, I think. The backlog is what we can see. Underneath the water are all the other areas that need to receive the same kind of attention,” Matheson said.
Some of the laws aimed to strengthen the broken system have prioritized certain cases.
“I’m not asking to change that prioritization. I’m just wanting to make sure that all evidence collected in a sexual assault or any sex offense is tracked,” Menendez said about SB 409.
Matheson says the mandate could take away that sense of helplessness for families already in pain.
“To give a little bit of control to these families, a little bit of ability to monitor things and follow up if it seems things are lagging or stalled at a certain step,” Matheson said about the bill.
RELATED: Texas lawmakers reformed key sexual assault laws in 2019. Advocates hope the progress continues this session despite the pandemic.