Law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin can now go ahead and process sexual assault kits under clear and transparent guidelines thanks to a new law signed by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers.
The law, developed by the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Team, will create a protocol for collecting, processing and retaining sexual assault evidence kits to prevent backlogging of evidence. The kits contain a set of items used by medical workers to collect and store evidence for DNA testing after a sexual assault.
Evers said that the laws will increase the transparency of the state’s testing process to “help prevent future delays in justice for victims while empowering survivors with resources to track their kits directly.”
Republican Sen. Robert Cowles, who sponsored the bill, said it was designed to “systematically prevent a testing backlog of sexual assault kits from ever happening again.”
Cowles was referring to the thousands of kits that go untested each year for a variety of reasons. Either the victim refuses to cooperate, or prosecutors believe the case is too weak to pursue.
Victim advocacy groups have been fighting to test every kit to bring serial offenders to justice, after the DOJ discovered more than 6,000 untested kits in 2015.
The DOJ responded by awarding a $2 million dollar grant to test the kits.
Testing old kits has resulted in 20 prosecutions and six convictions of offenders with ten pending cases.
With this new law, supporters say agencies will have a clear protocol for using the kits. The law specifies how long a kit can be stored in a crime lab, along with deadlines for reporting and collecting kits.
The measure specifies that health officials must notify law enforcement within 24 hours of collecting a kit, and the responding agency has 72 hours to collect the kit, and 14 days to send it to a crime lab for testing.
For victims who choose to not report the kit, the kit can be stored at a crime lab for up to ten years in case the victim changes their mind.
“Wisconsin will be safer because this bill has become law,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a statement.