Bill to address sexual assault kit backlog continues forward in Wisconsin Senate

Legislators are celebrating another milestone for a bipartisan bill that would address the state’s sexual assault kit backlog.

After a public hearing Thursday in a Senate committee, Attorney General Josh Kaul released a statement on the bill and its progress.

“Justice should never be delayed because a sexual assault kit was not submitted — or because there was a lengthy delay before a kit was submitted — to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratories,” he said. “Sexual assault is a serious violent crime, and the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases must be a priority.”

In the years that the backlog has made headlines, both former Attorney General Brad Schimel and Kaul have made progress on getting through it. As of July, nine people have been charged with sexual assault, based on that evidence.

Legislators hope this bill makes sure it doesn’t pile up again, setting a statutory procedure for collection and processing of sexual assault kits.

Under the bill, the victim can decide whether to have their tested or not. If he or she chooses to not have it tested, the health care worker who collects the kit will have 72 hours to send it to a state crime lab for storage.

If the victim chooses to have it tested, police must be notified within 24 hours and will then have to take possession of the kit within 72 hours and send it to the state crime lab within 14 days.

The victim can change their mind, which kicks off further proceedings.

Rep. Melissa Sargent co-authored the bill. She said many sexual assaults go unreported: nationally between 60 and 65 percent. She said this could help change that.

“People don’t feel like there’s any reason to do this reporting,” she said. “It is very hard to go through the court process. If we can show that we as a state take this seriously, I believe we’re going to be able to change this dialogue and make sure that survivors know that we are standing up with them and for them.”

The bill still needs to clear an executive committee and full Senate hearing, then work through the Assembly.

Because of its bipartisan support, the bill’s sponsors so far are optimistic.

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