Jefferson — The disclosure that 6,000 untested rape kits are in police storage facilities in Wisconsin is “disturbing and unacceptable,” Attorney General Candidate Susan Happ said Friday, pledging to speed up testing of DNA evidence from the kits.
A rape kit contains evidence collected when a rape is reported.
Medical personnel photograph, swab, and examine the victim’s entire body for DNA evidence, which becomes part of the package of evidence commonly called a rape kit.
“The state Dept. of Justice has taken the first step by surveying local law enforcement agencies to find out the number of rape kits gathering dust on their shelves,” Happ said. “But that is only the first step.”
“Failure to process those kits and test DNA in a timely manner may well allow some rapists get away with their crimes, or, worse, to commit rape again,” Happ said.
“DNA testing can be a powerful law enforcement tool, both to identify rapists and to clear innocent suspects.”
CBS News reported on the issue this week, and included a report from the Joyful Heart Foundation, which works to end the backlog, that Milwaukee reported 2,655 untested rape kits in its police storage facilities.
The state Attorney General’s Office said it found 3,351 additional untested rape kits statewide (with 81 percent of jurisdictions reporting) giving the state a total of 6,006 untested rape kits in police storage facilities.
The Wisconsin AG’s office said that from now on all kits that have a victim cooperating with the prosecution will be immediately forwarded to the State Crime Laboratory.
Kits from victims who have not yet decided whether to participate in the criminal justice system will also be forwarded to the State Crime Laboratory and stored for six years.
“Storing kits for six years doesn’t solve the problem,” Happ said. “We need to commit the resources not only to test every kit, but to follow up leads and aggressively prosecute rapists.”
“Cleaning up the rape kit testing backlog will require a multifaceted approach to increasing both the speed of testing and the capacity to test such evidence,” Happ added.
“We first should look toward federal resources for that help subsidize these costs. We must invest in state of the art equipment, which allows multiple samples to be tested simultaneously.
We must also ensure that the crime labs have the capacity — both in terms of personnel and space — to allow for this testing is done.”
Happ challenged legislators and the governor to “put their money where their mouths are” and commit to keeping our communities safe from sexual predators.
Susan Happ is the District Attorney for Jefferson County and is a member of the Reducing Recidivism Coalition, Domestic Homicide Prevention Review Team, a founding member of the Jefferson County Heroin Task Force, and a member of the Jefferson County Coordinated Community Response Team and the Jefferson County Sexual Assault Review Team.