GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) — You may be hearing the phrase “By Your Side Wisconsin” a lot in the next few months.
It’s a statewide initiative to encourage sexual assault survivors to allow testing of their rape kits and perhaps find justice for other survivors.
Attorney General Brad Schimel announced the campaign Monday in Green Bay, telling survivors they have complete control over the process.
He hopes the campaign empowers rape survivors to not only get help for themselves but also help solve cases for other possible victims.
Action 2 News first reported last week there are currently about 350 rape kits sitting at the Green Bay Police Department, waiting for the Wisconsin Department of Justice to take them for testing.
Whether they weren’t needed for prosecution or a victim didn’t want to file a police report, among other reasons, Schimel says 6,000 kits have been just sitting in police departments and hospitals around the state for years.
Through a nationwide initiative, he now wants them tested and wants to give those survivors power in deciding what happens next.
“We do know that individuals who commit acts of gender violence or sexual assault, we know that often times they don’t have just one person that they victimize,” says Schimel. “They have more than that, and so sometimes we can help close other cases for other survivors. In years gone by, we only looked at that kit as evidence in that one case, and we’ve evolved to recognize that we can gain evidence in other cases, too. But we can never take that choice away from that person from whom that evidence was collected. We will not do that, so the only way we can move forward is if they contact us.”
Through the By Your Side Wisconsin campaign, paid for through four million dollars in grants, the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA), are asking rape survivors to contact them and give permission to test the DNA in those kits.
At the same time, survivors are connected with resources and a network of support.
“I’m grateful that I did that… made that one call. Talking to someone who supported me has changed my life,” says Lisa Penterman, a sexual assault survivor from Kaukauna.
She’s encouraging other survivors to seek help and contact By Your Side Wisconsin.
“Nobody deserves to be raped. To the survivors here in the state of Wisconsin that had a SANE exam (sexual assault nurse exam) and a rape kit collected, it’s up to you, as well as it is your right to know what the next step in the process of your kit is,” says Penterman.
Since September, the Department of Justice says a few hundred kits have so far been tested, but Schimel is adamant it’s only being done with permission.
“That’s something we don’t have the right to open up and find out unless they’ve given us that consent, so we’ve created a system to track these. If a survivor comes forward, we’ll be able to go back, find their kit and help them,” says Schimel. “The last thing we want to do is to further disempower that survivor by giving them no choice as to what happens to the evidence that’s collected from their body.”
Schimel says when permission is given, the kits will be sent for testing at private labs outside Wisconsin.
He says the rest will remain at the State Crime Lab until survivors say they can be tested or 10 years, when the statute of limitations would run out for using them in prosecutions.
Survivors can also call 1-800-446-6564.