Legislation would create timeline, procedure for sexual assault kit testing

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW)-- Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul is asking the state assembly to take up legislation that would create a procedure for testing sexual assault kits. That comes after Wisconsin dealt with a backlog of untested kits.

The legislation was introduced by a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers back in May. Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay), Sen. Patty Schachtner (D-Somerset), Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison), and Rep. David Steffen (R-Green Bay) were followed by 71 senators and representatives who have voiced their support.

Executive Director of the Women's Community Jane Graham Jennings is backing a uniform procedure and timeline because she's seen both sides of the issue. She has worked with victims whose kits were tested in months, and those who waited years before finding out their kits were never tested.

She says a procedure could mean justice looks the same for everyone.

"The goal is to ensure that we have a uniform process for the submission of sexual assault kits to the state crime labs, and for the retention of those kits," said Graham Jennings.

She says it would make things more transparent for victims who trust there will be justice.

"They're trusting that the system is going to take that information and process it forward," she said.

That's why Graham Jennings says we need a uniform procedure for testing sexual assault kits.

When kits are processed after a delay, victims can go through a variety of emotions.

"There are some victims who are like, 'No thank you. I went through this process, and I healed from this,’" she said.

Which could explain why only about 35 cases have been referred for charges from the nearly 4,500 kits designated for testing back in 2016.

"In consult with the victim, they may decide not to go forward. And for some victims, that may be a relief. Others it feels like another failure of our system. They're seeing the headlines about how many kits are backlogged and they're surprised," she said.

The bills passed in the state senate in October, and Attorney General Kaul is urging the assembly to schedule a public hearing before their session ends.

The Assembly Committee on Health received the legislation on May 15.