By Lilly Hanson and Jacob Swanson
The Wisconsin Department of Justice’s crime lab tests nearly 900 rape kits a year for ongoing cases. But there’s another number the state is tracking: the over 6000 untested rape kits from around the state that go back to 1989. The numbers alone can be confusing, but the reasons for testing certain rape kits, and not others, has led to misinformation regarding an already complicated subject.
It’s been two years since the state received grants to address the accumulation of untested sexual assault evidence kits, also known as rape kits, which are packages that contain evidence collected after a reported sexual assault. But only 202 kits have been tested. While some may say this number is small, issues such as victims not reporting the sexual assault, to the not having consent to test the kits are just a few reasons why the numbers are so low.
“We don’t have a way to ask all 2000 of those people who were undecided and so we we’re trying to make the best decision to allow them to opt in to the system versus forcing them in to the system, “ Jamie Sathasivam, the program director of the Rape Crisis Center, said.
According to Sathasivam because there isn’t a way to ensure contact with every victim, nor would that necessarily be the most trauma informed way to handle the rape kits, advocates from across the state came together and talked about how to address testing kits where no report to law enforcement was made. It was decided that reasonably one could assume that if they had evidence collected and reported to law enforcement they were giving consent for testing. This could not be said for those kits where evidence was collected but NO report was ever made to law enforcement.
“Everyone would like these kits to be processed today, but it has to be done properly. And nothing would be worse than having someone wait for this to have happened and then have it done incorrectly. So it’s really important that we go through the appropriate labs and make sure everything follows that chain of custody,” Sathasivam said.
The chain of custody, chronological documentation or paper trail of physical or electronic evidence, is just one aspect of protocol that needs to be followed while testing these kits.
“There’s a statue in Wisconsin: ‘until the defendant has completed his or her sentence that evidence needs to be preserved,” Ian Hederson, Associate Director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “There are many reasons why those kits never made it to the crime lab for testing. Some of those kits were being held while the offender…while there was a conviction. Some of them maybe the victim said they weren’t sure whether they wanted the kit to be tested. The wanted the evidence collected. Others may have been the victim knows the perpetrator and so the issue may not be who the perpetrator is.”
All of these reasons act as boxes to be checked when considering whether or not to test a rape kit. According to the Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, in Dane County alone there are around 900 unsubmitted rape kits from the Madison Police Department, but of those only 600 are designated for testing.
Each rape kit can take two weeks to two months to process, but the average is 45 days. The Wisconsin Department of Justice estimates all kit testing will be completed as early as September of next year. To track the number of kits being tested visit https://wisaki.doj.wi.gov/.