July 31, 2019 — The data released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) today regarding the Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (WiSAKI) is extremely disheartening. According to DOJ, there have been 1,602 Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs) with foreign DNA identified. However, the data also indicated that as of today, a decision to notify survivors has been made in only 103 cases (6% of the SAKs with a foreign DNA profile). The criminal justice system failed survivors once by leaving SAKs sitting on law enforcement shelves for years – the fact that once again the criminal justice system is determining it knows what is best for survivors runs contrary to so much of the work that has gone into the problem of unsubmitted kits in Wisconsin.
WCASA, along with other members of the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Response Team (AG-SART), have worked hard to put survivor’s interests at the heart of the response to the “backlog” of SAKs. The By Your Side media campaign and website were part of these efforts, which attempted to restore a sense of control to survivors by allowing them to determine whether and when to access information about their kit.
Additionally, WCASA was part of a sub-committee of the AG-SART that developed a Victim Notification Protocol which was created to guide notification efforts at the local level. The protocol identified the following goals with respect to victim notification: Regaining the survivor’s trust in the criminal justice system. Unsubmitted sexual assault kits may signal to survivors that their assault wasn’t recognized; Providing a genuine apology to survivors; Reengaging the survivor. Without the survivor, an investigation cannot continue. Reengaging the survivor increases the likelihood of convicting offenders and holding them accountable for their crime; Interacting with survivors to mitigate emotional distress and ensure their safety. Notifications will often be difficult for survivors so responding professionals must be prepared to provide the necessary support during and after the notification.
By deciding not to notify survivors, all these opportunities were missed.
The data released by DOJ today also indicates that only 35 cases have been referred for prosecution. This is unfortunately yet another reminder of the improvements that must be made in the criminal justice system. Despite widespread media attention to the issue, what we learned today has not indicated improvement. In fact, it appears little has changed. Undoubtedly, test results are only one factor when it comes to referring a case for prosecution or deciding to charge a perpetrator. However, when coupled with a decision not to notify, survivors were denied the opportunity to ask questions or to simply learn a foreign profile was identified.
The criminal justice system simply must do better when it comes to responding to sexual assault survivors.
Media Contact: Ian Henderson, 608-257-1516, firstname.lastname@example.org