Putting the law on the side of crime victims

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Last month I judged the Hairy Man contest, a part of the Brushy Creek Spookyfest. This local festival raises donations of food and money for the Round Rock Serving Center. It is a worthy cause and a quirky local tradition. Other fall traditions include participating in Veterans Day ceremonies and handing out Thanksgiving meals to area veterans. These are all fun activities that I’m glad to do as a member of the community and as a state representative.

While there are things I enjoy about public service, there are times when we deal with issues that are not fun, but are of critical importance. Over the course of my career as a state legislator I’ve made an effort to focus on improving the law to help victims of sexual assault. I’m told stories about why various laws need to change. They are often difficult for the victim to tell and can be heart wrenching to listen to. It is the strength and courage of victims, and their parents and friends that help move the law in the right direction. These people supported by law enforcement, medical personnel, counselors and prosecutors give me the information I need to put the law on the side of the victims of these horrible crimes.

A friend called me and told me that her daughter was raped while at college. After undergoing a medical exam to collect evidence for the state, her insurance was billed for the testing. After her insurance paid, she was sent a bill for the remaining balance. Imagine that. You are the victim of a violent crime and you are sent a bill. Crushing. Demoralizing. Wrong. To prevent what I consider re-victimization, I passed a new law to allow the Crime Victims Compensation Fund to cover the cost of such tests. This should never happen to the victim of such a violent crime.

I spoke with a mother who had a baby that resulted from a rape. The man who committed the crime was convicted and sent to prison, but he sued her for joint custody and visitation rights. Under the law at the time he had the ability to force the woman into court. Working with my colleagues we changed the law to allow judges to sever parental rights of convicted rapists so that this form of harassment and intimidation will cease.

When I started in the legislature I told my staff I wanted to work to improve the law for sexual assault victims. They informed me that most of the ideas I had were unconstitutional because they fell into the category of cruel and unusual punishment. I asked my staff to bring me the experts in the field. Prosecutors and rape crisis centers across Texas have joined to create an organization called Texans Against Sexual Assault (TASA). Every session I coordinate with them on their agenda and sometimes take the lead on priority legislation. I value their work in the day-to-day dealings with victims and the accused. We are working together to bring positive change to protect victims and punish the guilty.

Fewer crimes are more vile than rape. It is too widespread and underreported. For those who have been a victim, I hope you’ll know that not only is being the victim of a crime not your fault, but also there are people who care about you and can help. For example, the National Sexual Assault hotline is staffed 24/7 by trained professionals and can be reached at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). We’ll never be able to stop all crime, but I’m committed to standing with the victims and ensuring that we can achieve justice.

State Representative Tony Dale is Vice Chairman of the Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Committee and is a member of the Environmental Regulation Committee. He is Chairman of the Texas House Energy Caucus. He represents southwestern Williamson County, Cedar Park, Leander, Brushy Creek, and parts of Austin and Round Rock.

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