By Senator Jane Nelson
Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, recognized every April, fosters public discourse about sexual assault — an issue that came roaring out of the shadows this past year as women across the nation came forward to share their personal stories.
When I was first elected to the Texas Senate, this subject was taboo. Survivors didn’t feel comfortable speaking about their experiences to friends and family — let alone as a witness testifying before committees in the Texas Senate. But together with hundreds of sexual assault victims’ advocates working in the trenches, we brought about changes that were long overdue. Together we passed 26 bills I introduced, along with many other reforms.
Our efforts continue, and just last session I spearheaded legislation to ensure the law does not force victims of sexual assault to co-parent with their rapists. I worked to revise property laws so that tenants who are sexually assaulted, abused or stalked at their residence can break their lease early without penalty. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I supported funding for more than 80 rape crisis centers across Texas that serve survivors and an appropriation to finally address Texas’ backlog of untested rape kits.
All of these actions have a common thread: they ensure every survivor gets the support they need, when they need it most, to start on the pathway to healing.
As we observe this awareness month, we should also turn our focus to the work ahead. When the Legislature convenes in January, we will have real opportunities to take action on behalf of sexual assault survivors.
We must continue examining how our systems are working — or are not working. Less than 10 percent of victims ever report their assault to police. Even fewer visit a hospital after their assault. We must take measures to ensure law enforcement and medical facilities are sufficiently equipped to respond to sexual assault cases and that all survivors know where they can find help.
With more than 400,000 of our friends, neighbors and fellow Texans sexually assaulted or abused every year, we have much more work ahead to bring them justice. Before action comes awareness. This April, I invite all Texans to play a role in highlighting Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Next session, we’ll seize this moment together and take decisive action to end this intolerable problem in our society.
Senator Jane Nelson represents District 12, which includes portions of Denton and Tarrant counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the highest-ranking Republican in the Texas Senate.