Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel announced Monday the state Department of Justice has finished testing a backlog of 4,154 sexual assault kits, the culmination of a multi-year effort led by the state and several nonpartisan, nonprofit groups.
“When I took office in 2015, I worked with our team to identify and collect more than 6,000 sexual assault evidence kits that had never been submitted to the crime labs for testing, some of them dating back to the 1980s,” Schimel said Monday.
The announcement comes two months before Schimel is up for reelection. Democrat Josh Kaul is hoping to unseat Schimel in November.
Testing the kits with a victim-centric approach was the aim of the Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, started in 2012, under former Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. The initiative worked to address the accumulation of previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits held by local law enforcement agencies and hospitals across Wisconsin.
Ian Henderson, director of systems and policy at the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said completing testing was a significant milestone.
"It's a culmination of a lot of years of work and that is really significant," he said. "But it's also time to recognize the work isn't done."
Henderson said he was satisfied with the pace of the testing work, which has been a point of contention between Schimel and his political opponents who say the state lagged in its response.
"It's a really complicated issue ... because of that complexity, it takes time to figure out how to do that and recognize that no solution we put in place was going to work for all survivors," Henderson said.
Kaul has said the state hasn't moved fast enough on testing the kits.
"It's been three years since Brad Schimel's DOJ was awarded $4 million in grant funding to eliminate Wisconsin's backlog of untested rape kits," Kaul said in a statement Monday. "It's unacceptable that it's taken this long for testing to be completed on the kits in the backlog."
Henderson said the next step is working with the Legislature to codify practices around handling and referring sexual assault kits to the state for testing to ensure a backlog doesn't happen again.
"There's more work to be done in the criminal justice system and how that system treats survivors," he said.