'Your body is a crime scene': Survivor works to help prevent future rape kit backlogs

Posted at 9:02 PM, Aug 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-14 23:53:30-04

After more than 6,000 sexual assault kits were left untested for years in Wisconsin, authorities are now playing catch-up as they are finally analyzed.

The I-TEAM followed up with state officials to see where the backlog of rape kits stands today, and what they are doing to make sure it never occurs again.

Wisconsin native Molly Horwitz was assaulted in 2013 while attending school in California.

Today, she is a UW-Law student and intern at the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault(WCASA), working to fight for survivors such as herself.

“I've kind of taken my anger and my hurt and really driven it to something to be positive,” Horwitz said.

The group is pushing for legislation that would prevent future rape kit backlogs.

Last year, more than 4,000 previously untested rape kits were analyzed, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice,

More than 1,000 of those kits contained usable DNA evidence which led to 35 cases referred for charges. Nine criminal cases have emerged from the backlog.

It’s a long wait for justice, and Horwitz knows firsthand consenting to a rape kit examination can feel like being violated for a second time.

“Your body is a crime scene at that point,” Horwitz said.

“What doesn't really change is how uncomfortable it is to have your legs up in the air in stirrups,” she said. “Have cameras in places that cameras shouldn't be, photographing each and every part of you where there may be fluid or bruises.”

Years after the incident, Horwitz asked the state of California to test her sexual assault kit. She didn’t press charges right away, and the man she accused of raping her was never charged.

But Horwitz said testing her rape kit brought a small sense of closure.

“No one would elect to have a rape kit done essentially if they knew that it wouldn’t lead to a result or even being tested,” Horwitz said.

The legislation WCASA is supporting would start a clock on rape kits, making sure they are collected and processed.

“We need to honor that and test those kits when survivors are not only willing to have their kit collected but then want to engage with the criminal justice system,” said Ian Henderson, WCASA director of legal and system services.

Henderson said their goal is to create a system where a survivor is not revictimized in the search for justice.

“I think for survivors it provides options,” he said. “And it also provides information and a clear understanding of what will happen to the kit.”

Under the bill, if a person wants to report a rape, health care professionals have 24 hours to inform police. Law enforcement then has 72 hours to collect that rape kit and 14 days to send it to the crime lab.

If the victim doesn’t want to report the rape right away, the kit is stored for 10 years.

“No one would elect to have a rape kit done essentially if they knew that it wouldn’t lead to a result or even being tested.” — survivor Molly Horwitz

“We need to make sure that there's never another backlog of sexual assault kits in Wisconsin,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.

The plan has the full support of the state attorney general because he said delays can dismantle a rape case.

“What that delay in testing those kits meant is that justice was delayed in some of these cases,” Kaul said. “The longer that kits wait to be tested, the longer it is until that potential investigative lead can be found.”

It also delays justice for those who agreed to an intimate examination of their bodies.

“That's four to eight hours that someone voluntarily said you can collect this evidence off of me, you can take swabs inside of me,” Horwitz said.

The bill is awaiting a public hearing in a state Senate committee. Kaul said it was delayed earlier this summer while lawmakers deliberated the state budget.

If you or a loved one is a survivor of sexual assault and are looking for more information about your legal options and other services, visit the Wisconsin Department of Justice's website.