Two Democratic state representatives requested a state audit, or official examination, of Wisconsin’s sexual assault kit testing backlog.
State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, and State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, requested the audit Oct. 2. The audit requests the Department of Justice’s sexual assault kit backlog status, kit testing processes and procedures and how the DOJ has utilized grant funding to address Wisconsin’s kit backlog.
Wisconsin has more than 6,000 untested kits, Sargent said.
“Sexual assault survivors deserve justice, and in Wisconsin, they have a right to be treated with dignity and respect, and that’s not even close to what they’ve received under this administration,” Taylor said in a statement. “As legislators, we have a duty to the people of Wisconsin to act when the system fails, and that’s why we’re requesting this audit.”
This is the second time Sargent and Taylor have requested an audit — the first time was in February. The two representatives have also reached out to Attorney General Brad Schimel in May, June, September and October, asking him to answer questions about the untested kits in Wisconsin.
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In the most recent letter, Sargent and Taylor requested Schimel answer how many untested kits there are in Wisconsin, how many have been tested by the DOJ since they received grant money, the number of kits that have been designated for testing and to not be tested and how many kits will be tested in state and private labs, Sargent said.
“It’s very hard for [sexual assault survivors] to continue to heal and move on when they know this is hanging over them,” Sargent said. “They absolutely deserve the dignity and respect of a government that has their back and that is not happening under this administration.”
When these kits are tested, Sargent said, there is a much higher chance of being able to bring perpetrators before the courts and provide justice to survivors. It allows everyone in the state to feel more secure.
Testing kits also allows survivors to move on with their lives, Sargent said. She added it is “vital” closure is provided to survivors in Wisconsin.
Rape Crisis Center executive director Erin Thornley-Parisi said there is probably a sense among survivors whose kit hasn’t been tested yet of justice not being served.
Thornley-Parisi added, however, that there are a number of valid reasons why a kit hasn’t been tested, such as the case being closed, the perpetrator being caught or the victim changing their mind.
Though the center cannot provide information about whether or not a kit has been tested, the center can provide resources, support and information on who to contact, Thornley-Parisi said.
“Most importantly, to both the Department of Justice and to the Rape Crisis Center, is that people receive the support they need around both making this decision and on pursuing the case once the kit has been tested,” Thornley-Parisi said.
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The Rape Crisis Center will also be putting up billboards encouraging people to contact the center if they want to talk or if they are unsure of what their resources are regarding the kits, Thornley-Parisi said.
To further support sexual assault survivors, Sargent has introduced various pieces of legislation, and will introduce more legislation later this session.
One of the current bills would require law enforcement agencies to annually report the number of kits collected, submitted for testing and not submitted for testing. This data would then be reported to the DOJ and compiled into an annual statewide report.
“Sexual assault should not be a partisan issue,” Sargent said. “Every single one of those kits represents a sexual assault survivor, and they deserve justice.”