Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced in February that a serial sex offender had been convicted after ten years. That conviction was made possible by DNA evidence that was tested in 2018 as part of a state-wide push to end the backlog of sexual assault kits.
Last week, State Senators held a public hearing on two new bills that would set guidelines for the handling and tracking of such kits. Sexual assault kits are evidence collected at the hospital by a specialized nurse. Currently, there is no overarching state guidance in how they must be handled. A backlog of more than four thousand kits, dating back as far as a decade, was cleared in 2019 as a DOJ initiative. The authors of the proposed senate bills are hoping to prevent a future backlog.
Senate Bill 71 would create that guidance. It includes timelines for testing and storing, depending on how the survivor wishes to proceed. The bill’s authors aim to prevent a backlog of untested kits. The second proposed bill, Senate Bill 94, would create a tracking system to allow the survivor see where the kit was in the testing process.
Michelle Viste is the Executive Director of the Office of Crime Victims Services at the Wisconsin Department of Justice. She spoke at the public hearing last Thursday in support of both bills. Viste says the proper and expedient processing of sexual assault kits is critical for survivors and community safety. “This bill goes a long way in addressing the mistakes of the past, and gives current and future sexual assault survivors the opportunity for justice that they deserve,” says Viste.
For those following legislative action on sexual assault kits, these two bills will seem familiar. In 2019 two similar bills passed the state senate. Those bills died in the Assembly, though a majority of representatives supported them.
The Assembly did however, vote on and pass similar bills. They included some “poison pills” including school choice and ICE Detention, that Democrats did not support. The second set of bills never made it to the State Senate. No bill regarding sexual assault made it to the governor’s desk by the end of last session.
Photo by Brian Standing for WORT-FM.