Detroit is still fighting to process close to 10,000 untested rape kits

The processed kits have helped identify close to 100 serial rapists linked to sex crimes in several jurisdictions

Topics: rape kits, sexual violence, Violence Against Women, Rape, Sexual assault, Detroit, Rape Culture, ,

Detroit is still fighting to process close to 10,000 untested rape kits Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy (Credit: AP)

A Michigan county prosecutor has been leading the fight to process more than 10,000 untested rape kits in the Detroit area despite being “severely” underfunded and understaffed in the effort.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy says that her office has tested around 2,000 kits, which have led to DNA matches in around 50 percent of these cases, and helped prosecutors identify close to 100 serial rapists linked to sex crimes in nearly two dozen other jurisdictions.

More from Christine Ferretti at the Detroit News:

Worthy has gained national attention for her pursuit of clearing the backlog of the cases, some of which date back 25 years and the statute of limitations has expired, so they couldn’t be used at trial. But if the DNA evidence remains intact, Worthy said, it will be critical in matching serial rapists in Wayne County and across the country.

“We have over 100 people that have come to the city of Detroit, gotten away with rape and gone on to rape others,” Worthy told the council. “Our rapists have gone to 21 other jurisdictions and raped again. It is not a Detroit-only problem. They have gone on to rape with impunity.”

Worthy said it took nine months to sort through the kits and locate corresponding reports to create a database to prevent future cases from being lost. The problem, she said, was “not a Detroit problem,” it’s an international problem.

Each kit, Worthy added, cost about $1,200 to $1,500 to process. An overwhelming majority of the victims want to go forward to ensure their rape case is prosecuted, she said, adding the the process can last at least five years.

“It’s not like television,” Worthy told the council. “ It doesn’t take just a few seconds to test a rape kit for DNA. It’s a very long process.”

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The long and costly process of processing these kits is not like television, but Worthy has some support from “Law & Order” actress Mariska Hargitay, who appeared in Detroit on Monday to speak on behalf of the effort.

Hargitay expressed shock at the sheer number of untested kits, which total around 400,000 across the country. “To me, this is the clearest and most shocking demonstration of how we regard these crimes,” Hargitay said at a news conference.

“One would assume that if someone endures a four- to six-hour invasive examination, that that evidence would be handled with care.”

The state of Michigan has appropriated close to $4 million to send the remaining kits to private labs for testing; Michigan State Police claim the kits will all be tested by the end of this year.

But that’s only the beginning of the work, Worthy notes.

“Right now we’ve got over 200 rape kit hits that we’ve gotten” that require more police work and additional investigating, Worthy said.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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