Gov. Greg Abbott has responded to critics who point out the lack of a rape exception in the newly-passed Heartbeat Bill by saying he’ll eliminate rape in Texas.
“Rape is a crime, and 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 at a press conference on Sept. 7. "So goal No. 1 in the state of Texas is to eliminate rape so that no woman, no person, will be a victim of rape."
Eliminating all rapists is unlikely and seeks to distract Texas voters from the controversial abortion law — one of the most restrictive in the nation.
The Shorthorn Editorial Board believes the governor’s words are insensitive, tone-deaf and unrealistic. Some rape victims do not report the crimes in fear of public shame or recalling bad memories, and they often know the perpetrator.
If the governor wanted to help rape victims, he would instead focus on prosecuting rape by clearing a backlog of untested rape kits in the state.
As of August, Texas had 5,298 untested rape kits that the state law enforcement has not processed. As of 2015, more than 90% of rape incidents went unreported in the state, according to data by the Institute of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in UT-Austin. Abbott should try to solve these issues first.
In 2019, former President Donald Trump signed the Debbie Smith Act, named after a rape survivor, into law to provide federal funding to state and local law enforcement agencies to complete crime scenes and untested rape kits analysis. Texas received $6.9 million, and North Texas received $1.4 million last year.
Rape carries a statute of limitations in Texas, and victims must file charges within 10 years of the assault. Victims have to rely on the timely processing of the DNA evidence to solidly convict rapists.
Ninety-three percent of children and teen rape victims know their perpetrators, according to data from Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Nearly 40% of rapes are committed by an acquaintance and 33% are committed by a former spouse. Less than a fifth of rape incidents are committed by strangers.
Abbott believes rape isn’t committed by people you know, but by strangers who are easily identifiable and can be stopped on the street. It’s not that simple.
Only 23% of rape perpetrators end up being arrested, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Abbott has not announced how he will coordinate efforts or funding to eliminate rape.
Instead, he directs funds toward rewarding private citizens $10,000 and covering attorney’s fees if they sue family members, abortion funds, rape crisis counselors and other medical professionals because they are suspected of aiding or practicing abortions.
Abbott should have thought about these issues before signing a bill that almost bans abortions entirely. It doesn’t help rape victims to battle for abortion rights before seeing justice served against their perpetrators. It demonstrates a lack of awareness in the governor’s process of handling the sensitive issues in Texas.
Texan voters need to step up and let Abbott know he cannot make promises he can’t fulfill and should call for the governor to process the evidence of rape crimes and help sexual assault victims.
Voters can also contact their state representative to express dissatisfaction with the Texas Heartbeat Bill and demand it to be repealed.
Texans should do something, because their governor won’t.
The Shorthorn Editorial Board is made up of opinion editor Dang Le; Editor-in-Chief Angelica Perez; associate news editor Cole Kembel; Katecey Harrell, life and entertainment editor; design editor Vivian Santillan; news reporter Taylor Coit; and copy editor Jill Bold.