In many cases, kits provide crucial evidence that can help convict the perpetrator. Sexual assault kits are incredibly important, not only to the survivor of the sexual assault but also to the Department of Justice and the greater community, according to officials.
Aside from identifying the guilty party, testing kits have additional, lesser-known positive outcomes.
Properly analyzed kits allows the DOJ to link crimes together and identify serial rapists, according to End the Backlog Initiative. It also leads to improved accurate conviction rates by either eliminating innocent suspects or proving the guilt of a known suspect.
The DOJ works hard to ensure that throughout this entire process, the perspective remains centered on what the survivors want and how they feel, according to Keeley Crowley from the DOJ’s crime victim services.
“We want to make sure the survivors are heard in this process,” Crowley said.
Can UW-Madison help?
While it’s a good idea to see what the state’s largest research university can do to help, they probably can’t, said Ian Henderson, associate director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
With UW-Madison’s close proximity to the DOJ, it makes sense to see if graduate students in the Genetics Department can donate time to help test some of the kits, according to Henderson. However, having graduate students test kits would conflict with national guidelines, he added.
Kits need to be tested in an accredited laboratory which meets certain regulations. Nikki Roehm, director of the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory Bureau, said that if UW labs were used to test kits as a third party, they must follow specific rules and regulations and test staff proficiency every two years.
“In order for us to use a third party lab for outsourcing DNA testing that third-party laboratory must also be . . . accredited by [the lab accreditation board]” Roehm said. “To my knowledge, the UW–Madison genetics lab is not accredited to the same standards as the [state crime lab].”
But UW has done a great job with their advocacy programs on campus — whether those programs are student-led or university-affiliated, Crowley said. The importance of letting survivors of sexual assault know that there are resources available to them, Crowley said, cannot be overlooked.
“Raising awareness on the issue of sexual assault and the resources available to survivors is so important,” Crowley said.
In 2015, the DOJ, now led by AG Brad Schimel, received two $2 million grants to help reduce the number of un-submitted kits. Recently, the Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, a program created by AG SART, launched a website that tracks all un-submitted kits across the state of Wisconsin.
This website displays data updating the public on efforts to reduce the number of un-submitted kits. It also provides in-depth descriptions of the kit testing process, frequently asked questions and court dates for alleged sexual assault offenders.
The DOJ now tests kits at a rate of 200 per month, with the hopes of having all possible kits sent to crime labs by fall of 2018. They are outsourcing some of the work to an accredited, contracted forensics lab to expedite the process.
Crowley, project coordinator for AG SART, said she’s aware of trauma un-submitted kits have caused survivors. Crowley is optimistic the backlog can provide a good opportunity for the agency to improve their institutional approach to sexual assault kits.
If survivors don’t want their kit tested, they have the option to still have a kit collected without reporting it to law enforcement.
The hospital will send the kit to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory Bureau where it will be saved for 10 years, the statute of limitations for second and third-degree sexual assaults in the state of Wisconsin.
“I think it's important to say while we respectfully acknowledge that SAKI offers us the opportunity for system improvement, we're sorry for any additional trauma or upset this accumulation may have caused survivors,” Crowley said.