In December 2012, then Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen created the Attorney General's Sexual Assault Response Team (AG SART), which was composed of a multidisciplinary group of professionals knowledgeable in the complex issues surrounding sexual assault. Members of the AG SART originally appointed by the attorney general included: law enforcement, victim advocates, sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE), the state crime lab, prosecutors, hospital administrators, and policy makers. At its inception, the AG SART was tasked with, among other things, the responsibility to ensure that all sexual assault kits (SAKs) are created, distributed, used, and collected and sent to the Wisconsin State Crime Lab (WSCL) in an efficient and expedient manner. Other responsibilities included evaluating the composition of medical forensic collection kits, standardizing billing practices for SANE exams, and creating a process for a survivor to have a sexual assault kit collected without reporting to law enforcement.
“It has been my honor to serve on the AG SART since its inception in December 2012. Along with community-based advocates, my staff and I have been privileged to represent the voice of survivors on the committee. WCASA is proud to support DOJ’s SAKI efforts. We have no doubt that the comprehensive, statewide initiative that you are implementing to test unsubmitted sexual assault kits will have a significant impact on improving the criminal justice response to cases of sexual assault.”
- Pennie Meyers, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Redesigning the Sexual Assault Kit
In 2015, a group of SANE nurses and WSCL staff collaborated to develop medical-forensic evidence collection process that would be comprehensive and consistent across the state of Wisconsin. This included designing a new kit for SANE exams that featured an updated "head to toe" collection sequence to help ease the stress of the exam on the survivor. After prototypes were developed and approved, the WSCL began providing the new kits to hospitals and law enforcement agencies free charge. Not only is this a tremendous resource for service providers, it also ensures Wisconsin's compliance with the Violence Against Women act by providing survivors with a forensic exam, free of charge.
During this time the AG SART also assisted in developing administrative code for administering the awards of compensation to health care providers who perform sexual assault forensic examinations and providing procedures to ensure any limitation of an award is calculated in a fair and equitable manner.
A New, Victim-Focused Protocol
In 2016, a new protocol was established for when a survivor presents for a SANE exam. The AG SART recommended that a patient/survivor be offered the option to have a forensic exam conducted regardless of whether or not they wanted to report the assault to law enforcement. Prior to the new protocol, if a patient/survivor didn't want to report to law enforcement at that time, a kit would not be collected. Whereas if the patient/survivor did want to report to law enforcement, a kit would be collected immediately. However, there are many times when the patient/survivor does not know if they want to report. Deciding to engage with law enforcement can be a very intimidating concept, especially following the trauma of an assault.
Under this new protocol, a patient/survivor can have a forensic exam conducted and the collected kit will be sent directly to the WSCL for storage. The WSCL will hold the kit for up to 10 years, which is the statute of limitations on second and third degree sexual assaults in Wisconsin. If at any point in those 10 years the survivor wants to report to the assault to law enforcement, the law enforcement agency can request that the kit be tested.
Members of the AG SART and other subject matter experts including survivors, victim advocates, sexual assault forensic nurses, law enforcement officers, victim/witness professionals, prosecutors, and crime laboratory staff developed a protocol to guide the SAKI SART’s survivor notification efforts after a previously unsubmitted sexual assault kit was tested.
This protocol is based on the principle that all decisions and interactions with survivors will be victim-centered, trauma-informed and consist of the following:
- Attending to the survivor’s emotional safety, as well as their physical safety
- Strengthening the survivor’s capacity to recover from the traumatic effects of sexual abuse/violation by providing ongoing information, resources, services, support, and relevant contacts
- Educating survivors, service providers, and the general community about the impact of trauma on survivors’ health and well-being
- Respecting the survivor’s confidentiality and privacy
- Empowering the survivor by giving choices
- Respecting the survivor’s choice not to engage
The DOJ SAKI Survivor Notification Protocol can be found here.