Lavinia Masters: Changing the lives of sexual assault victims
Sometimes it takes a tragedy to shed light on shortcomings within the legal system. This was the case for Lavinia Masters. She was violently raped at only 13 years old. Following her attack in 1985, she went to the hospital to get a full examination and to complete a rape kit. Young Lavinia went home, praying the police would find her assailant. Unknowing at the time, her rape kit sat on the shelf untested, and unsolved for more than 20 years.
Due to backlogs and inadequate funding, rape kits in Texas were not being tested. For 20 years, Lavinia hoped the police would call her out of the blue and tell her they found the man who assaulted her. That never happened. Randomly in 2005, Lavinia saw that the Dallas Police Department had allocated funding to clear their backlog of rape kits. She called and requested hers get tested. Many months later, the police informed her that they found her assailant with a DNA test – but that it was too late to prosecute. They told her the statute of limitations had passed, blocking her from getting justice. Many people would begrudgingly accept the law, no matter how wrong and unjust it may be. Lavinia is not one of those people. She transformed from victim to sexual assault advocate and began to address the systematic injustices in Texas laws that allowed her statute of limitations to expire.
Lavinia never dreamed of being involved in politics. However, she could not accept that sexual assault victims miss the time frame to prosecute, due to a delay in rape kit testing, which is completely out of their control. In 2005, she went to her local council members’ offices to address her concerns. Lavinia was introduced to Texas House representative Victoria Neave, and they started on the path to change the law. Neave formed a PAC to get their bill passed, which set new requirements for rape kit testing and preservation and extended the statute of limitations on sexual assault cases. House Bill 8, otherwise known as The Lavinia Masters Act, passed in its first legislative session. Lavinia remarks that the day the bill passed, “felt like she finally had her day in court.”
Lavinia’s political perspective is largely based on doing what is right. She is bipartisan and does not believe that the ongoing party polarization should interfere with protecting human rights. Her ideology is what led to The Lavinia Master’s Act to be nonpartisan. She wants to instill in people that doing what is right goes beyond the semantics between political parties.
Currently, Lavinia works as a life coach and is a full-time advocate for sexual assault survivors. She is a survivor herself and is passionate about helping victims through their darkest days. She works online through the non-profit organization, hopesavesministry.com. Lavinia is also releasing her book, Twist of Hope, in the Winter of 2020. Her novel will explain her journey, her part in getting The Lavinia Master’s Act passed, and more.
Lavinia never let her assault define her and retroactively set on a path to change the laws that affected her, and thousands of others. She wants to remind young women, “if you do not put every piece of yourself into something, nothing will change. Even when things look dim and chaotic, know that it is all part of your purpose. Never give up and keep pushing for greatness.”
Seasonal Contributor - Jindal OutREACH Program