By Jalayne Robinson, LMSW
TDCAA Victim Services Director
Survivors of sexual assault will soon be able to follow their evidence kits as they wind their way through the various parts of the criminal justice system, thanks to a new statewide program. It is a result of House Bill 281, which passed in 2017. It mandates a statewide sexual assault kit tracking system overseen by the Department of Public Safety, and its implementation date is September 1, 2019.
After they undergo a sexual assault exam, survivors will receive credentials from the hospital, which will enable them to log onto a website to track the kit. The rape kit will be labeled with barcodes that are entered into a database, and everyone who handles the kit—hospital staff, law enforcement, lab personnel, and prosecutors—will update the system as the kit passes through. The online system will report the location of the kit and whether the kit is in-transit, in-process, or completed, and survivors can see all of it.
In the past, many survivors of sexual assault felt left out in the evidence process, and it was hard for these victims to understand the many stages their evidence kit may travel through before completion. This new program aims to end that confusion. Pilot phases of the new system have already been tested this summer in Amarillo, Arlington, El Paso, Lubbock, and Houston and went statewide September 1.
Overview of new laws on victim services
In case you were not able to attend one of our Legislative Updates this summer, below are some of the new or updated laws that pertain to victims of crime.
Code of Criminal Procedure changes:
• Art. 42.03 was changed so that a court may not limit the number of victims or their relatives who give a post-sentencing allocution about the offense, defendant, or effect of the offense on the victim—unless the court finds that additional statements would unreasonably delay the proceeding.
• Art. 56.021 now grants a victim the right to a forensic medical examination within 120 (instead of 96) hours of a sexual assault, indecent assault, stalking, or trafficking.
Crime Victims Compensation (CVC) changes:
• Art. 56.32 has two new offenses that qualify as “trafficking of persons”: online promotion of prostitution and aggravated online promotion of prostitution.
• Art. 56.42 now includes a child victim of a murder attempt in the child’s residence to the list of victims who may receive a one-time relocation assistance payment from CVC.
Protective orders changes:
• A new protective order registry has been established by Senate Bill 325. Though the law becomes effective September 1, 2019, it applies only to an application for a protective order filed, or a protective order issued, on or after September 1, 2020. See Government Code §§72.151–.158 for more information.
• There’s a new criminal offense called Indecent Assault, a Class A misdemeanor, which is eligible for a protective order and temporary ex parte orders.
Our Key Personnel & Victim Assistance Coordinator Seminar is coming up November 6–8 at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in San Marcos. Don’t miss this opportunity to network with other key personnel and victim service coordinators from prosecutor offices across the state and learn from the awesome workshops offered. Visit www.tdcaa.com/training for registration and hotel information.
Elections for the East Area (Regions 5 & 6) and South Central Area (Regions 4 & 8) for the 2020 Key Personnel & Victim Services Board will be held on Thursday, November 7 at 1:15 pm at the Key Personnel & Victim Assistance Coordinator Seminar in San Marcos. The Board assists in preparing and developing operational procedures, standards, training, and educational programs for TDCAA. Regional representatives serve as a point of contact for their region. To be eligible to run for the board, each candidate must have the permission of his or her elected prosecutor, attend the elections at the KP-VAC Seminar, and be a dues-paying TDCAA member.
If you are interested in training and want to give input on speakers and topics at TDCAA conferences for KP and VACs, please consider running for the board. If you have any questions, email me at [email protected]
Tree of Angels
The Tree of Angels ceremony is a meaningful Christmas program specifically held in honor, memory, and support of victims of violent crime. The first program was implemented in December 1991 by Verna Lee Carr, victim advocate with People Against Violent Crime (PAVC) in Austin.
The Tree of Angels program provides an opportunity for communities to recognize that the holiday season is a difficult time for families and friends who have suffered the crushing impact of violent crime. This special event supports surviving victims and their families by making it possible for loved ones to bring an angel ornament to place on a Christmas tree.
Over the past 28 years, Tree of Angels has become a memorable tradition observed in many Texas communities. This year, the designated Tree of Angels week is December 2–8.
If you are interested in hosting a Tree of Angels in your community, a how-to guide is available. Please note the Tree of Angels is a registered trademark of PAVC, and PAVC is committed to ensure that the original meaning and purpose of the program continues. For this reason, PAVC asks that you complete the information form on the website www.treeofangels.org to receive the how-to guide. After the form is completed electronically and submitted to PAVC, you will receive instructions on how to download the guide. PAVC asks that you not share the electronic document to avoid its unauthorized use or distribution.
If you have any questions regarding the how-to guide or about hosting a Tree of Angels in your community, please contact Licia Edwards at 512-/837-PAVC or [email protected]
In-office VAC visits
TDCAA’s Victim Services Project is available for in-office support to your victim services program. We at TDCAA realize the majority of VACs in prosecutor offices are the only people in their offices responsible for developing victim services programs and compiling information to send to crime victims as required by Chapter 56 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. We realize VACs may not have anyone locally to turn to for advice and at times could use assistance or moral support. This project is especially helpful to new victim assistant coordinators.
If you are a new VAC or if your office would like to schedule a victim services visit, please email me at [email protected] I am available for inquiries, support, in-office consultations, or group presentations or to train new VACs in your office.