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Detroit — Reports of sexual assault have been on the uptick for the past two years in Detroit, an indicator that Police Chief James Craig attributed partly to work by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and the community at large to address the thousands of abandoned rape kits discovered in Detroit 10 years ago this week.

"The community, for the first time, is starting to have the confidence that this police department is going to take allegations of sexual assault seriously," said Craig. "Our commitment is we are going to continue. All victims count."

Craig made his comments on Wednesday as Worthy honored a group of people who played a role in getting testing done on the kits.

"I think that everyone can probably agree on this: At the end of the day, ... this was the most important work we will ever do," said Worthy. "The bottom line is we do this for our survivors, our blood, our sweat, our tears, we have stayed with this for them ... There is no possible, conceivable way we could have gotten this far without the people in this room. "

The kits, some of them decades old, were found on Aug. 17, 2009, in a decrepit warehouse east of Midtown. Ten years later, tens of thousands of dollars have been raised to test all of the kits for DNA evidence, thousands of women have been notified and hundreds of investigations have been launched.

The work, which has touched 40 states, has led to the identification of 824 suspected serial rapists and the adjudication of 282 cases, resulting in 197 convictions.

According to Worthy's office, 211 cases are actively being investigated while 377 are awaiting investigation.

"This journey," Worthy said, "is far from over."

The event included representatives from law enforcement, government, advocacy groups and the community who worked together to raise money, pass laws and investigate cold cases arising from the 11,341 untested rape kits. 

Among the speakers was Elle Travis, a victim-turned-activist who founded the grassroots project Voices from The Backlog. The crowd gave her a standing ovation after she recited one of her poems.

"I am a survivor who won't be silenced back into that cold, dark and lonely night," Travis said. "A survivor. Protector of the innocence that is the dying light fighting against the silencing that is the bitter night. I am a rebel, I refuse to fade. I will stand and fight!"

Also addressing the crowd wasKim Trent, president of the Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit) African American 490 Challenge, which organized black women to raise money to process the rape kits.

"Today we are gathered to commemorate something that should have never happened ever," said Trent. "Today we remember with sadness and anger the 11,341 broken promises the city of Detroit made to sexual assault survivors by allowing their rape kits to sit in garbage bags and oil drums in an abandoned warehouse for years, sometimes decades." 

"But today," Trent continued, "we celebrate with pride the tenacious women and men who forced the city to keep the 11,341 promises by raising awareness about our city's rape kit crisis, raising money to solve the crisis and forcing lawmakers ... to create policies, lasting polices, to ensure that no sexual assault survivor would endure this blatant disrespect again."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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