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Sexual assault kit testing brings power to survivors

Posted at 7:04 PM, Aug 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-01 20:04:43-04

After thousands of sexual assault kits went untested over the years in Wisconsin, new results are bringing new life to the cases.

The Department of Justice said of the 6,837 previously untested sexual assault kits, 4,471 have been tested. It's resulted in 1,323 kits being associated with further testing.

But the big results, 35 cases have been referred for charges and nine resulted in charges. One of those charges has been dismissed.

"There are people who are finally feeling vindicated and feeling like, OK, I'm being heard," said Sharain Horn-Dalzin, director of Aurora Healing and Advocacy Services.

Horn-Dalzin has worked closely with victims of sexual assault. She said at her hospital, they see nearly 800 survivors a year. She said these results, while small, can give a lot of positives to those survivors.

"I wasn't surprised the numbers were that low," Horn-Dalzin said. "It's good to know some victims are receiving justice. I hope it gives them peace of mind. I hope they understand, people are hearing them. Moving forward, the way the processes are now for sexual assault kits, I'm hoping we never see a backlog like that again."

For some survivors, the news may not be positive. Three of the initial charges in Milwaukee were from 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively. So much time has passed, Horn-Dalzin said some survivors may have tried to move on and this could be a traumatic reminder of what happened.

"If someone felt like, 10 years ago no one listened to me, maybe they don't want to tell that story again now," Horn-Dalzin said. "To knock on someone's door and say, 'Oh, by the way, we got a positive hit on your kit,' I think that also can have some implications for those who may have never shared with anyone. Some people may have moved on or moved forward or never shared with anyone they were a victim of violence because they didn't feel they were believed or heard when they initially told their story."

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), some 75% of sexual assaults go unreported. So information such as this could give those who feel voiceless the confidence to tell their story and hold someone accountable.

"It's good to know some victims are receiving justice. I hope it gives them peace of mind." — Sharain Horn-Dalzin, director of Aurora Healing and Advocacy Services

"I hope people are realizing there is such an upcry by the community for us to do better around victims of violence," Horn-Dalzin said. "We all know someone who was sexually assaulted at some point in time in their life. So I hope this is giving them a voice to know they can be heard."

On top of holding someone accountable, the testing kits also put a DNA sample on file to help in the future if the suspect commits other assaults.

"It can potentially find other victims, but it also holds perpetrators accountable," Horn-Dalzin said. "Our state crime lab is doing a great job with inputting the data in systems so we can prevent people from hurting people later in life. We want to make sure people know police care about sexual assault in our community and that we're doing everything we can to make sure those kits get to the crime lab and get tested in a timely manner."

If you're in need of help from sexual assault, visit Aurora Sinai's Healing and Advocacy Services.