Worthy is joined by Actress, Advocate and Joyful Heart Foundation Founder & President Mariska Hargitay to Discuss Progress on the Detroit Rape Kit Initiative
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy is announcing new Sexual Assault Kit legislation today. It provides for the timely analysis of rape kits by prescribing processes and timelines for kit pick-up by law enforcement and testing by crime laboratories. It also establishes boundaries under which a DNA profile can be removed from CODIS and provides greater victim input into kit testing. The ultimate goal of the new legislation is to identify and apprehend sexual assault offenders in a timely manner to stop serial rapists.
Prosecutor Worthy will discuss the necessity of testing all rape kits and will announce updated results from the testing of 1600 of Detroit's backlogged kits. She is joined by actress, advocate and Joyful Heart Foundation founder and president, Mariska Hargitay, whose organization has made ending the rape kit backlog a national priority.
"Through advances in science, DNA has given us a powerful investigative tool to identify and prosecute sexual assault offenders," said Prosecutor Worthy. "The problem of back-logged and abandoned sexual assault kits illustrates the need for the proposed Sexual Assault Kit Evidence Submission Act. This legislation gives transparency and accountability surrounding this issue.
Law enforcement has a duty to make sure that the important evidence contained in sexual assault kits is handled, tested and analyzed in a timely manner, not only for the sake of the victim, but for the protection of the public."
Detroit has set a precident for the rest of the country in attaining standards for rape kit reform, including the city's commitment to investigate every lead generated from the rape kits and institute comprehensive victim notification for survivors whose cases were impacted by the abandoned kits.
"When I travel across the country to speak out about the rape kit backlog, I tell people to look to Detroit for inspiration for what is possible when a city makes a commitment to end their backlog. By prioritizing rape kit reform, Detroit sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your case matters," says Mariska Hargitay, Founder and President of the Joyful Heart Foundation. "And to public officials in cities and states across the country, I say to you - if Detroit, against all odds, can solve its rape kit backlog - you can, too."
Detroit uncovered the abandoned rape kits on August 17, 2009 when representatives from the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office (WCPO) and the Michigan State Police (MSP) toured a Detroit Police Department (DPD) property storage facility located at 5140 Riopelle Street in Detroit. During that tour, 11,304 sexual assault kits (SAKs), dating back to the 1980's, were discovered. A preliminary review of these SAKs revealed that the vast majority had never been submitted to either the Detroit Police Crime Lab or Michigan State Police Forensics Lab for DNA analysis.
In 2010, Project 400 tested 400 randomly selected rape kits to give a statistical snapshot of the rape kit problem in Detroit. Based in part upon the results, Prosecutor Worthy initiated a collaborative community partnership to process each of the 11,304 SAKs. The partnership includes: Michigan State University; the Michigan Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention and Treatment Board; the Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners; YWCA Interim House; Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division; the Detroit Police Department; the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan/ Prosecuting Attorneys Coordination Council and the Joyful Heart Foundation.
Currently, Detroit has tested 1600 kits, 59% of which have had matches in CODIS - the DNA databank - across 24 different jurisdictions, identified 87 serial rapists and convicted 10 rapists.
Rape kits, performed in the aftermath of a sexual assault, contain and preserve evidence from a four-to-six hour examination of the survivor. If a survivor chooses to report her rape to the police, the evidence in the rape kit can be a very powerful tool to pring a perpetrator to justice.
The timely analysis of rape kit evidence is a core public safety issue. The Sexual Assault Kit Evidence Submission Act will be a collaborative process between prosecution, law enforcement, health care and victims' organizations.
Over the next several months, additional legislation will be introduced on tracking evidence, victims' rights and addressing any potential abandoned kits.
About the NIJ Grant
In April 2011, the WCPO was one of the only two jurisdictions in the country to receive a prestigious 30-month award in the amount of $1.5 million from the National Institute of Justice to determine the scope of the problem of unsubmitted SAKs and the resources required to begin to correct the problem. There has been little research in this area and few evidence-based 'best practices" to help jurisdictions handle the crisis of untested rape kits and to establish policy to avoid any rape kit backlogs in the future. One of the primary goals of the project is to lay foundations and produce strategies to help other jurisdictions timely process untested SAKs in their communities. Titled "National Institute of Justice Sexual Assault Kit Action Research Project" (NIJ SAK ARP), the project commenced in April 2011 and ran through October 2013.
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