Wisconsin Department of Justice started processing over 4,000 untested sexual assault kits Wednesday, which could be good news for victims of sexual assault.
Sexual assault kits or rape kits contain DNA evidence that a victim provides from their body after assault, Jaime Sathasivam, director of client programming at Dane County Rape Crisis Center, said. A victim can go to a sexual assault nurse examiner and get a “head to toe” check for physical damage.
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Information from this check is placed in a kit, which can be sent to a forensic crime lab to be tested and used as evidence should the victim report the assault to law enforcement, Sathasivam said. Victims can decide what is done with their kits, which are provided free of charge.
Since 2010, between 4,000 and 6,000 sexual assault kits have gone untested in Wisconsin and are sitting in law enforcement storage, Sathasivam said. In a letter to Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., said this lack of action could have a negative impact on victims seeking closure.
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Wisconsin received $4 million from the U.S. Department of Justice to catalog these kits and ensure they are tested in September 2015. But Baldwin said this money has not been used at all.
“This is unacceptable and the people of Wisconsin deserve better,” Baldwin said.
Sathasivam said the lack of action could be because of inadequate guidance to state law enforcement on what should be done with the kits. Some of these kits should have been submitted to crime labs but were not because of confusion.
In a letter to Baldwin, Schimel said the state did not test these kits because of lack of approval from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance. Wisconsin recently received this approval and is going to begin the first round of kit testing, he said. Wisconsin also recently received $1.1 million in additional funding to expedite the testing process.
Sathasivam said it is possible that some victims still do not know what happened to their kits and simply assumed they were tested. Others could have been told that their kits will not be tested without their permission and are still sitting in storage, she said. Having these kits tested could give many of these victims the closure they need.
“For those victims who wanted to have the kits tested, finally testing them fulfills the promise that they’re moving forward,” Sathasivam said.
If any sexual assault victims would like more information on their kits, they can call the Rape Crisis Center hotline at (608) 251-7273. Sathasivam said this line is open to people who wish to report sexual assault as well.