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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Wisconsin 'Forward' Statue stands in front of the entrance to the Wisconsin State Capitol. 

New Wisconsin bill would quicken sexual assault kit processing times

The bipartisan bill would consolidate the time period in which survivors receive results.

The Wisconsin Senate is considering a bipartisan bill to mandate speedier processing of sexual assault kits. 

The bill, co-authored by Sen. Jesse James, R-Altoona, would require law enforcement to begin processing kits within five business days and complete analysis within 60 days. 

Currently, Wisconsin does not have a time frame for the processing and analysis of sexual assault kits. James and other lawmakers said the goal is to increase transparency for survivors, quicken legal proceedings and prevent future sexual assault kit backlogs. 

“As a cop, I know how mentally and emotionally exhausting this crime can be on victims. Having these extra efforts in place to speed up the processing time for victims, families and beyond is a win-win for Wisconsin," James said in a statement.

Survivors have raised concerns about sexual assault kit processing speeds for years, Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, said in a statement to The Daily Cardinal. 

Agard and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, convinced both former Attorney General Brad Schimel and the Legislature to create sexual assault kit processing guidelines in 2021.

That bill, 2021 Wisconsin Act 116, outlined the process for reporting and collecting sexual assault kits. Survivors are given the choice to report their assault to law enforcement. If a survivor chooses to report, the health care professional administering the test must notify law enforcement within 24 hours and submit the kit for analysis. 

If a survivor declines to report, the medical worker sends the kit to state crime laboratories to store for 10 years or until the survivor decides to report the assault to law enforcement. 

The new bill expands the 2021 guidelines by requiring state crime laboratories to begin processing such kits within five business days and complete analysis within 60 days. 

Agard praised “good, bipartisan work” for driving action on sexual assault kits. 

“Should an issue with the processing of the kits arise in the future, I am confident that there will be bipartisan consensus to address it comprehensively and as quickly as possible,” Agard told the Cardinal. 

Agard said she wants to see future legislation that would require school curriculum about healthy relationships and teen dating violence. She also wants to create penalties “for people who secretly remove a condom without their partner’s knowledge or send explicit images without consent.” 

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Numerous states and municipalities across the country face similar challenges, with at least 25,000 kits in law enforcement or crime lab possession in 2022, according to US News.

“I am hopeful that our work can serve as a model for other levels of government,” Agard said. “Upholding survivors’ dignity and choice and ensuring their right to a fair and just process should be a top priority for every lawmaker.”

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