For more than twenty years, sexual assault kits have accumulated in Wisconsin and across the nation, without being submitted for testing.
There were many reasons kits were not submitted for testing over the years. Sometimes, law enforcement or prosecutors made a determination that a sexual assault allegation was not credible. Other times, the kit was not submitted for testing because it was not needed to prove the immediate case.
What the criminal justice system was missing, though, is that sex offenders often don’t just assault one victim. Studies show that by the time offenders are caught, they’ve often assaulted more than one person. Finding the offender’s DNA may link that offender to other assaults and can have the power to bring justice for other victims. Further, if DNA links multiple offenses together, then prosecutions can be linked.
The justice system failed survivors of sexual assault in thousands of cases for two decades when it did not see the potential value in each and every kit. Survivors courageously came forward, but many in the criminal justice system let them down. For that I apologize on behalf of the criminal justice system, and commit as your Attorney General to ensure this does not happen again.
We now know there is value in testing kits, even when the evidence does not seem necessary in the immediate case.
I experienced this first-hand as an assistant district attorney in the sensitive crimes unit in the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office, when I prosecuted a case where the defendant forced his way into a home in the middle of the night and committed a terrifying sexual assault. He made the young mother who was home alone with her baby believe he had an accomplice, threatened to harm her baby if she cried out, and covered her face so she could not see him. The factual circumstances told us it was very unlikely we would find DNA, but we submitted the sexual assault kit for testing anyway.
To our surprise, a DNA profile was developed on an unknown offender that matched to an unsolved case from Nashville. The facts of the two cases were hauntingly similar and unusual. There was no question we were looking for the same unknown offender.
Later, the offender was caught in a home invasion and sent to prison in Illinois, where authorities eventually added his DNA profile to the national DNA databank. The DNA profile was a match to our two unsolved cases. We had our offender.
I will never forget the courageous victim from Nashville who testified in our case and provided tremendous support for our victim who was terrified to see the defendant’s face for the first time at trial. Together they stood against a violent interstate serial rapist.
We never would have caught him if we hadn’t tested that sexual assault kit.
There is value in testing every sexual assault kit we can, which is exactly what the Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Initiative aims to do.
I have assembled a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, law enforcement officers, victim advocates, forensic nurse examiners, prosecutors, and survivors to work on this initiative and I have made the testing of these kits a top priority, but our work will not end when these kits have been tested. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors will be tasked with investigating cases and prosecuting offenders identified, in part, through the testing of these kits.
To ensure sexual assault kits never again sit on a shelf untested, I have increased training for law enforcement, made Wisconsin’s sexual assault nurse examiner training program more robust, redesigned sexual assault kits to ease the stress of an exam on a survivor, and implemented new protocols for the collection of sexual assault kit statewide.
Unsubmitted sexual assault kits accumulated over twenty years, but in less than three years, DOJ and local law enforcement will process all previously unsubmitted kits in an effort to bring justice to sexual assault survivors after years of delay under previous administrations. We invite you to explore this website and return regularly to learn more about our work and progress.
- Attorney General Brad Schimel