'Melissa's Law' imposes stiffer penalties for sexual assault against relatives
More than half of sexual assault victims in Texas report the offender is a relative, according to a 2015 statewide sexual assault prevalence study.
Attorneys in Lamb County helped propel this bill to the Governor's desk.
"There's just an instant trust that your family is, that's a secure place, that's a secure zone, and it's really scary that it's not," Lori Zinn, Lamb County Victim Assistance Coordinator, said.
The bill is named after a victim from Clovis, New Mexico. In 2015, a girl named Melissa was picked up from a bus stop by her uncle. He brought her to a farmhouse he owned in Lamb County where he sexually assaulted her for more than day, Lamb County District Attorney Scott Say said.
"Because of the familiar relationship, the current state of the law at that time, because Melissa was over the age of 17, only by four months, that was just straight sexual assault, which the punishment would range from two years to 20 years," Say said.
There is no provision in current law enhancing punishment ranges based on the rapist's relation to the victim. After prosecuting Melissa's attacker, the DA's Office reached out to State Rep. Ken King and Sen. Charles Perry for help in changing the law.
'Especially given what we know about the statistics of who is raping people in the state of Texas and the number of victims we have in the state of Texas, we felt very strongly there needed to be an incest enhancement," Rickie Redman, Lamb County Assistant District Attorney, said.
Melissa's Law was signed by Gov. Abbott on Tuesday, July 9.
The incest enhancement will increase sexual assault to a first degree felony. The new range is 20 to 99 years, or life in prison.
The prosecutors said they hope the law serves as a deterrent and gives victims the courage to press charges. the law goes into effect Sept. 1.
"No matter what, exactly like we told Melissa a thousand times, no one deserves for this type of thing to happen to them, and we just really hope that people see that we're serious, and the Governor's serious about protecting victims of violent crime," Redman said.