This Group Is Raising Money To Test Decades-Old Rape Kits And Find Justice For Thousands

Detroit Prosecutor Kym Worthy talks about the $35 million pledged by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to help eliminate a nationwide backlog in testing rape kits during a news conference, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, in New York. More than 11,000 rape kits containing DNA and other evidence were recovered in 2009 from a Detroit police storage facility. Worthy's office has been wading through the kits. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Detroit Prosecutor Kym Worthy talks about the $35 million pledged by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to help eliminate a nationwide backlog in testing rape kits during a news conference, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, in New York. More than 11,000 rape kits containing DNA and other evidence were recovered in 2009 from a Detroit police storage facility. Worthy's office has been wading through the kits. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Imagine looking through a storage facility and suddenly stumbling on evidence of thousands of women who have been denied justice for decades. That’s what happened to an assistant prosecutor in Detroit who in 2009 discovered a previously unknown stockpile of 11,304 untested rape kits dating back to the 1980s.

In the years following, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has been battling to get attention and funding to test the backlog of sexual assault kits. Each kit potentially holds DNA evidence from a rape that can only be used once its tested in a crime lab.

Now, a new initiative -- the first of its kind in the nation -- is bringing together public and private groups to raise $10 million to finish testing the remaining kits, investigate any resulting cases and prosecute those responsible.

The initiative is led by Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit), a partnership between the prosecutor's office and two nonprofits, the Michigan Women’s Foundation and the Detroit Crime Commission.

“We know that rapists attack an average of 11 times and are associated with a myriad of other criminal offenses,” Worthy said in a statement. “Having the resources to take these criminals off the street, and stop them from committing further violent crimes, will ensure a safer Detroit for all.”

So far, Enough SAID has raised about $750,000 from corporate and individual donors. The funds raised by the group will bolster public funding. (An additional $3 million for prosecution and $4 million for kit testing has previously been allocated by the state.)

One success of the Detroit Crime Commission so far has been negotiating the price of kit testing, to lower it by two-thirds.

In an earlier initiative supported by federal funding, 2,000 of the backlogged kits were tested, leading to the identification of 188 serial rapists and 15 convictions.

One of those convicted individuals was Eugene Wilkes, who, according to the prosecutor's office, in 2006 pretended to be an undercover police officer to offer a deaf woman waiting at a bus stop a ride. He then subsequently raped her. Her rape kit was not tested for six years, the Detroit Free Press reports, but once it was, it linked Wilkes to several other rape cases.

Michigan has no statute of limitations for filing first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges.

A consistent supporter of Worthy's efforts is Mariska Hargitay, who plays a sergeant in a sex crimes police unit on the television series “Law & Order SVU.” Her organization, the Joyful Heart Foundation, has pushed for ending the rape kit backlog, estimated at 400,000 kits nationwide.

“Everyday in the United States, women and men take the courageous step of reporting their rape to the police. Because of what those individuals have suffered, their bodies are crime scenes,” Hargitay said at a press conference in Detroit earlier this year. “Now, one would assume that if somebody endures a four- to six-hour invasive exam, that evidence would be handled with care and immediately tested. And when they are handled that way, and when they are tested, rape kit evidence is probably the most powerful crime-solving tool that we have.”

Hargitay was in Detroit to commend Worthy’s efforts in getting the local backlog eradicated and her role in bringing the issue to light for national policymakers.

“Bottom line is rape kit [sic] can bring justice,” Hargitay continued. “And justice, for so many survivors, can bring healing. And testing rape kits is vital to keeping rapists off the streets. And yet, hundreds of thousands of these kits don’t even make it to the crime labs.”

Support Enough SAID's efforts to test Detroit's backlogged rape kits and bring justice to victims below. (The total funds listed on the CrowdRise site include some state funding.)

Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.

Ken Clarke
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tory big beast Ken Clarke faced calls for his resignation following comments he made about rape sentencing policy. The then Justice Secretary was speaking to BBC 5 Live in 2011 when he appeared to suggest date rape is not always “rape”. Addressing presenter Victoria Derbyshire, he said: “Assuming that you and I are taking about rape in the ordinary conversational sense, some man has forcefully…” In this full transcript provided by the BBC, Derbyshire interjected with: “Rape is rape,” to which Clarke replied: “No it’s not.”
Rick Santorum
ASSOCIATED PRESS
In 2012 GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum explained his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape in an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan. He said that women who face such circumstances should “make the best of a bad situation”. When asked what he would say if his own daughter approached him, begging for an abortion after being raped, he explained he would counsel her to “accept this horribly created” baby because it was still a gift from God, even if it was given in a “broken” way.
George Galloway
ASSOCIATED PRESS
George Galloway ignited fierce debate in 2012 over comments he made relating to the sex crime allegations against WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. On his podcast Good Night with George Galloway, posted on YouTube, he said: “It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.” Swedish prosecutors wish to question Assange on suspicion of offences of unlawful coercion, sexual molestation and rape.
Roger Helmer
Matt Cardy via Getty Images
In 2011 UKIP candidate Roger Helmer blogged his opinion that there are distinctions between “date” and “stranger” rape. “Rape is always wrong, but not always equally culpable,” he wrote. With reference to “stranger” rape, he said: “… the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind.”
Alan Pardew
ASSOCIATED PRESS
In 2009 then BBC football pundit Alan Pardew, now coach of Newcastle United, was forced to issue an apology after he compared a tackle by Chelsea’s Michael Essien to a rape on Match of the Day. Essien had collided with City’s striker Ched Evans when Pardew said: “He’s a strong boy. He knocks him off." As Alan Hansen interjected with “he mauls him”, Pardew added: "he absolutely rapes him."
Graeme Swan
ASSOCIATED PRESS
In 2013 England spinner Graeme Swann said sorry after comparing the third Ashes Test loss to Australia as being “arse raped” Swann made the comments on Facebook during an exchange with his brother hours after England’s loss. He took to Twitter to apologise: “Sorry to anyone who was offended by my comments in the papers today. Crass and thoughtless of me in the extreme.”
Demetri Marchessini
In May UKIP Donor Demetri Marchessini argued there was no such as thing as marital rape, claiming: “If you make love on Friday and make love on Sunday, you can’t say Saturday is rape.” When asked whether UKIP should be taking cash from a donor with such repellent views, leader Nigel Farage replied: “Possibly not.”
Judge Derek Johnson
California judge Derek Johnson was publicly admonished in 2012 for suggesting a rape victim “did not put up a fight” and that if someone truly doesn’t want to have sex, their body “will not permit that to happen.” Judge Johnson made his comments during a case where a man threatened to mutilate the face and genitals of his former girlfriend with a heated screwdriver. In documents published on the Californian Commisson on Judicial Performance, he is recorded as saying: “I'm not a gynecologist, but I can tell you something - if someone doesn't want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case.”
Todd Aikin
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Failed Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin suggested in 2012 that victims of “legitimate rape” don’t need the option of abortion because they “rarely” become pregnant. He later apologised.