Sexual assault accusers in Willacy County demand justice
Willacy County’s backlog of sexual assault cases is taking an emotional toll on accusers.
A girl, who will be referred to as Little Jane in order to protect her identity, was 7 years old when her step-father allegedly began to sexually abuse her.
“He said it's going to be my fault, and that my little brother is not going to live with a father figure,” Little Jane said. “And it hurt me because I didn't have a father-figure and I wanted my brother to have one.”
Little Jane kept the alleged abuse to herself. While she was too young to understand what was happening, she said she knew it was wrong. Little Jane's mother had no idea what was happening until her older daughter came forward. Eventually, Little Jane also revealed what was happening.
“This got turned in 2016, the outcry,” Little Jane's mother said. “2018 it finally gets to the DA in Willacy County.”
Willacy County District Attorney Annette Hinojosa says an investigation taking two years is common due in-part to the backlog of rape kits and other forensic exams.
“On average, it's at least 18 months to be able to get DNA back,” Hinojosa said. “And that's just a backlog throughout the state of Texas.”
Hinojosa says the backlog is getting better, thanks to the legislature adding funding to test more rape kits.
The trial has been canceled multiple times since the crime was first reported in 2016. But when the pandemic hit, all courts were closed due to the coronavirus, making Little Jane's family feel defeated.
“They put us down, the system,” Little Jane's mother said. “They get my daughters ready to go, and we have to think about it again.”
The rape kit backlog is statewide issue. For a comparison, Channel 5 News reached out to other counties in the Valley.
In the last five years in Hidalgo County, excluding court closures due to the pandemic, District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez says they've had 30 unresolved child sexual assault-related cases. Their oldest being approximately 14 months, with an indictment being handed down in mid-January.
Before 2021, Willacy County had approximately five unresolved sexual crimes, including two against children. The oldest was reported in 2015. Willacy County's population is more than 40 times smaller than Hidalgo County’s population.
Willacy County is also a rural county with limited resources.
“We have one courtroom,” Willacy County District Attorney Annette Hinojosa said. “Both the county court, and the district court share that courtroom.”
When asked why the county hasn't received more resources to help out, Hinojosa said they try to apply for grants, but that they don't work out.
“Essentially every county is probably looking at funding for infrastructure and buildings, and things of that nature,” Hinojosa said.
Meanwhile, Little Jane’s family plays the waiting game. The defendant in question is out on bond, leaving the young girl paralyzed with fear.
“Sometimes I try not to think about it, but it comes up, and it just hits me,” Little Jane said. “Sometimes I have bad days, sometimes I have an ok day.”
Channel 5 News made several attempts to reach out to the defendant in this case, but he was unavailable for comment.
As of now, Little Jane’s case has been transferred to Cameron County and their court date is set for July of this year.
Cameron County says they do not have any sexual assault cases still pending.