Fight to test rape kits

From the March-April 2013 issue of News & Letters:

Fight to test rape kits

Detroit—Four years after discovering 11,303 untested rape kits in a Detroit Police Department warehouse, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s appearance on NBC’s “Rock Center” gained national attention for her efforts to bring justice to victims of rape. Worthy obtained a million dollars in federal money to test the kits. Of the 600 tested so far, 21 serial rapists have been found. Worthy and her staff have devoted countless volunteer hours to identify and prosecute the perpetrators.

Reaction from women nationwide has been fast and furious. Anne Breslaw wrote on jezebel.com, “While his DNA sat on the shelf from 2002 to 2008, untested, one convict, Shelly Brooks, raped and murdered five women. (Writing that actually made me nauseous.) The idea of these sexual assault victims undergoing the invasive rape kit procedure so quickly after their trauma, only to result in bureaucratic red tape and slow-moving forensic work rendering their bravery futile, is no less than rage-blackout inducing.”

Early last year reporter Abigail Pesta echoed that analysis in an article for Newsweek: “Cities across the country had reported stacks of kits: 11,000 in San Antonio, 1,200 in Albuquerque, 4,000 in Houston, according to Sarah Tofte, who has studied rape-kit pile-ups for Human Rights Watch. Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of untested kits are languishing in police storage facilities.

“Part of the reason for the clog is the price of testing the kits. Each kit can cost an average of $1,200 to $1,500…But resources aren’t always to blame, she says; often the kits are simply a low priority for police.”

Some of the kits are 25 years old, but Worthy is seeking funding to test them all, approximately $15 million. Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Detroit Crime Commission online at http://www.detroitcrimecommission.org or by mail: Detroit Crime Commission, 1001 Woodward Avenue Suite 650, Detroit MI 48226. (313-394-1600.) Specify “Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Rape Kit Initiative” on your donation.

—Susan Van Gelder

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