DOJ rape kit initiative (copy) (copy)

When a victim of sexual assault chooses to file a police report and have the case prosecuted in court, forensic nurses do an exam to collect evidence for analysis and package it in a box like the one shown. The box is shipped to the state Crime Lab by police or nurses.

Sexual violence continues to be a pervasive problem in our nation, and right here in Wisconsin. The startling statistics behind the prevalence of sexual assault cannot go understated, as an American is sexually assaulted every 92 seconds. This jarring and frightening statistic only gets worse if you are a woman, a college student, a member of the military, part of a tribal nation, incarcerated or LGBTQ+. Further, a shocking three out of four assaults go unreported.

No person should ever have to experience the lifelong trauma and implications of sexual assault. As a state, we must do more to create an inclusive environment that protects sexual assault survivors and create policies that limit further instances of sexual violence and misconduct. This begins right here in the state Capitol through enacting laws that ensure justice for victims of sexual assault and promote a culture of consent, respect and equity throughout Wisconsin — a fight that I have been proud to roll up my sleeves and work on in my tenure as a state representative.

In the past few weeks, Attorney General Josh Kaul announced that the remainder of the egregious sexual assault kit back log that had accumulated in Wisconsin under the failures of past administrations that left thousands of kits untested — and thousands of sexual assault survivors without answers — has come to an end. With the tireless efforts of Attorney General Kaul, the Department of Justice, the Wisconsin State Crime Lab and countless others who have worked on behalf of survivors over the years, Wisconsin has met a crucial milestone in the fight for justice for survivors in our state.

Further, the Department of Justice has announced that Wisconsin has been awarded a $1.8 million grant to continue its critical work on sexual assault cases in Wisconsin, and to fund a statewide kit tracking system. This is imperative to maintaining Wisconsin’s current successes, and to preventing a future backlog from occurring. This funding will also allow sexual assault survivors to track and receive updates about the status of their sexual assault kit, and provides them with transparent, timely and accurate updates that they deserve. Additionally, Attorney General Kaul and DOJ have announced this week that the first perpetrator has been sentenced as a result of testing the backlogged kits. In this case, a Waupaca man was sentenced for an assault that occurred in 2012, after the victim’s kit went untested for years.

While this is great news for our state, there is plenty more work to do. Fortunately, the Wisconsin state Legislature has taken significant bipartisan action to stand up for survivors and prevent future instances of sexual violence in our state this session.

Many bipartisan pieces of legislation, with more to come, have been introduced and are making their way through the legislative process. In particular, Assembly Bill 214, legislation to prevent the backlog of sexual assault kits from occurring ever again by creating and codifying timelines for the collection, submission and storage of kits, has garnered over 50 bipartisan co-sponsors and the support of advocates, law enforcement, health professionals and survivors alike. This bill, which was introduced in April, was passed by the state Senate this October, but has yet to move receive the public hearing it deserves and move forward in the state Assembly.

It is refreshing to see Wisconsin taking bipartisan, common-sense action to stand up for survivors. While no piece of legislation can ever erase the trauma of sexual assault, this bill is an important first step to provide survivors with affirmation and a pathway toward justice. As such, it is vital that the Assembly Committee on Health holds a hearing on this legislation immediately, in order for the bill to be voted on and passed in the few floor sessions that remain this biennium.

As a state, we must do all that we can to support survivors and prevent instances of sexual violence. I am proud to work with my colleagues in the Legislature and community advocates throughout Wisconsin, and to stand in solidarity with survivors of instances of past and future sexual assault. I look forward to the passage of Assembly Bill 214, and for further bipartisan work on this issue.

Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, represents Wisconsin's 48th Assembly district.

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