Detroit’s eight-year dive into its untested rape kit backlog identified more than 800 serial rapists, illustrating the importance for law enforcement to take sexual violence seriously as part of the “Me Too” movement empowering survivors around the world.
According to a Detroit Free Press interview with Detroit’s Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, a total of 11,341 rape kits—evidence medically collected from the bodies of sexual assault survivors—on Wayne County’s backlog were tested over eight years as part of Worthy’s Enough Sexual Assault in Detroit (Enough SAID) funding project.
The kits, discovered in a Detroit police storage warehouse in 2009, dated back to as early as 1984. Processing this backlog led to 127 convictions, 1,947 investigated cases, and the identification of 817 serial rapists.
According to Worthy, a predator will rape on average seven to 10 times before they’re caught, but of the 817 identified, more than 50 have been identified 10 to 15 times each. Furthermore, the kits have been connected to crimes in 39 other states. In the context of the 200,000 untested rape kits sitting on backlogs across the country, Worthy says this discovery is sobering, but also sad.
“In one city, in one county, in one state, we had 11,341. That means a couple of things: Number one, this problem is a lot more pervasive than people could ever have imagined. Number two, [that’s] on top of the very low rate that people report in the first place,” Worthy told the Free Press, referring to the two-thirds of all assaults that go unreported. “That means there is much more sexual assault going on, that it’s much more pervasive than people think.”
Worthy said that to improve how Detroit approaches rape kits in the future, legislation, better training, and tracking programs have been put in place in order to increase accountability and for survivors to know where their kit is in the testing process. However, Worthy also said attitudes toward victims of sexual violence, particularly victims of color, also greatly affected how thousands of rape kits were discarded decades ago.
“They closed cases because the women had worked as prostitutes or had mental illness issues or had substance abuse. Didn’t believe them, didn’t care, and this was one issue that led to the backlog of these kits,” Worthy said. “…86 percent of our victims in these untested kits are people of color…If you’re a person of color, if you’re a different economic class, then your case—across the board, across the board, not just sexual assault—they’re treated differently.”
According to End the Backlog, a project of nonprofit Joyful Heart Foundation that brings awareness to unprocessed rape kits across the U.S., Detroit’s more than 11,000 tested kits are dwarfed by the backlogs in Los Angeles County and Memphis, with 12,500 and 12,374 respectively. While Memphis’ backlog is still being processed, the testing of LA’s backlog led to 753 matches in the national DNA database.
Worth said Enough SAID received more than $2 million from Wayne County to process these kits over the past two years. Previous Wayne County Commission administrations treated untested backlogs as optional and dependent upon outside funding. According to End the Backlog, there are two points where kits get backed up—the first happens when a rape kit is collected but stays deposited in evidence, and the second happens when kits are submitted for testing but delayed due to lack of resources. Testing one kit costs an average of $1,000 to $1,500, leading to kits taking years to be tested or followed up on by law enforcement.
“Sexual assault is the neglected child of the family…it was very, very difficult to get this off the ground,” Worth said. “I don’t understand that. Everybody has a mother. A sister, a wife or a partner, or aunt or some female that they are close to. And men, too. This happens to men. We have men in our project. We have some children.”
H/T Boing Boing