Worthy pushes for more funding to prosecute rapists

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy met Wednesday with Michigan's two senators and other members of the congressional delegation, seeking more funding to help prosecute suspected rapists.

In 2009, more than 11,300 untested rape kits were found in Detroit dating back to 1984. With $4 million from the state and support from advocacy groups, testing has been completed and found significant evidence of serial rapists.

Worthy told the members that as of April 1, 255 suspected serial offenders had been identified and linked to criminal contacts in 30 states, said Maria Miller, a spokewoman for Worthy.

That's up from last year when Worthy said testing of some kits had identified 127 potential serial rapists — and resulted in 15 convictions to date. Worthy said earlier this year she needs money to hire 25 additional investigators and 10 additional prosecutors.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, were among Michigan lawmakers who met with Worthy on Wednesday — and both pledged to work to help her office to receive Justice Department grants to prosecute suspected rapists. Also attending were U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield.

"We need to make sure there's prosecutions and people are brought to justice," Stabenow said in an interview. The prosecutor's office has identified hundreds of potential suspects "and they don't have the staff, the investigators to go out and find them."

Stabenow said she and the Michigan delegation are working with Worthy to try to land a significant grant to deal with the backlog. She praised support from the Wayne County executive's office and Mayor Mike Duggan.

"We're talking about not only saving lives and getting criminals off the streets, but stopping future rapists," Stabenow said. "There are serial rapists who are out there right now."

Worthy "doesn't just have the resources" to prosecute these cases, Peters said in an interview. "There are serial rapists that are out there today and perpetrating crimes. We can find them and get them off the streets.... The evidence is there, it's waiting."

"It is unacceptable that these rape kits sit on a shelf, unanalyzed, for years," said Dingell. "We have a serious responsibility to ensure victims can hold their perpetrators accountable, and we all must work together to end this backlog and remove violent criminals from our streets."

This is Worthy's latest trip to the Capitol to push for more funding. She was here in 2013 trying to get more help.

In January, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and her husband, Dave Goldberg, sent a $25,000 donation to Detroit to fund a campaign for testing forgotten rape kits.

The Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit) campaign received the donation this week, Peg Tallet, spokeswoman for the Michigan Women's Foundation, said Tuesday. That brought the total raised to date to $825,000.

Tallet was among those in Washington with Worthy meeting with Michigan members of Congress, along with Carolyn Cassin, president and CEO of the Michigan's Women's Foundation.

The foundation partnered with the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and the Detroit Crime Commission last month for a first-of-its-kind collaboration to raise $10 million in public and private money to tackle a backlog of rape kit testing and pay for the investigation and prosecution of unsolved cases.

Donations will go to the Detroit Crime Commission to create a Cold Case Sexual Assault Team of specially trained detectives and attorneys to handle an estimated 3,000 cases.

Organizers estimate it will cost $2 million annually to fund the team and that it will take about five years to work through all of the cases. Stabenow said Worthy has a new protocol to track new rape kits to make sure a new backlog doesn't develop.

"Kym Worthy really is the national leader, the prosecutor who has taken this on from start to finish," Stabenow said. "She's committed to finding the rape kits that haven't been tested."

Earlier this year, the Detroit Police Department assigned six police officers to rape kit investigations, Tallet said in January.

Mariska Hargitay, an actress on the television show "Law & Order: SVU" and an advocate for victims of sexual assault, said in a 2013 appearance in Washington with Worthy that federal officials estimate there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits nationwide.

"The bottom line is a rape kit can bring justice," Hargitay said.

Hargitay recounted in 2013 that one of the tested rape kits came from a Detroit mother of two who was raped in her bed years earlier with her children sleeping next to her. After the kit was tested, her attacker was charged, convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison.