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Wisconsin rape kit backlog cleared, final kits sent to lab

NOW: Wisconsin rape kit backlog cleared, final kits sent to lab

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – Wisconsin’s rape kit backlog is cleared.

The final 48 kits were sent off to a private lab for testing Tuesday.  That brings the total to 4,155 kits that were sitting on shelves waiting to be tested, that are now at private labs.

The announcement came as welcome news to people who work with sexual assault victims.

“I'm very excited about that, I think there was a lot of thought put into this process,” said Deb Donovan who works with victims.

Along with clearing the backlog, the state took a closer look at how they handle sexual assault.

“It's about changing the culture surrounding response to sexual assault,” said Attorney General Brad Schimel.

Along with testing kits, the state also changed how they keep victims informed about their cases and protect their privacy.

They also expanded their refrigeration area at the state crime lab so now all kits will be stored there.

“Up until a couple of years ago hospitals were trying to store this evidence and we knew that potentially maybe people were reporting it and they had no idea that their evidence was still at the hospital,” said Donovan.

Testing kits can also help clear cases that investigators didn't even know were linked.

“Sexual offenders don't often have just one victim, and it matters to try and solve just more than the immediate case,” said Schimel, “studies show that by the time offenders are caught, they've often assaulted more than one person.”

The idea was to not only avoid another backlog, but keep victims at the center of the process.

“I think it's really important that they thought about the victims and they are keeping them forefront,” said Maryann Clesceri who also works with victims.

“We are all in a better position now to support survivors of sexual assault than we were in the past,” said Schimel.

Meanwhile, Schimel's opponent in the race for Attorney General Josh Kaul pointed out that less than half of all kits have been tested so far.

He released a statement Tuesday that said, "Despite today’s announcement, testing still hasn’t been completed on more than half of the kits in the rape-kit backlog that need to be tested. Brad Schimel's failure to prioritize the elimination of the backlog has meant that justice has been delayed for survivors and that dangerous criminals have remained on the streets longer than they should have. Schimel should have made the elimination of the rape-kit backlog a priority as soon as he took office, but, instead, only nine of the kits in the backlog were tested in his first two years as AG.”

Schimel says all kits should be tested by the end of the year.

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