Michigan certified for 'best practices' in rape kit testing

A sample rape kit.

As the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office prepares to observe the 10th anniversary of the discovery of 11,341 abandoned untested rape kits in August, Michigan has received certification from a national organization for developing a statewide system for how to test rape kits.

Michigan is the 7th state in the country to get the certification for "best practices"  in the testing of rape kits from the Joyful Heart Foundation.

The award comes a few months before the 10th anniversary of the discovery of the abandoned, untested rape kits found in a now-defunct storage facility on Riopelle Street rented by the Detroit Police Department.

To date, all of the rape kits found have been tested and 826 suspected serial offenders have been identified. There are 240 cases being actively investigated and 431 cases awaiting investigation, as a result of 2,963 investigations, according to the prosecutor's office. The testing of the kits has identified DNA linked to crimes  in 40 states and Washington, D.C.

As of this month, there have been 174 rape convictions as a result of the testing of the kits.

The work by Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office to test the thousands of abandoned rape kits in Wayne County has highlighted similar backlogs around the country.

“The tremendous work that has been done in Michigan has been a multi-faceted, collaborative effort — from the tireless working prosecutors, investigators, and advocates to legislators, forensic examiners and crime lab analysts to the highest levels of state government," Worthy said in a statement.

"And of course with a huge assist from the Joyful Heart Foundation. We all shared a fierce commitment to validate and support Michigan’s past sexual assault victims and to make sure future survivors are wrapped in the justice that they deserve,” she said. 

Kym Worthy, Prosecutor, Wayne County, speaks the many rape kits found and tested at the Detroit Policy Conference held at the Motor City Casino on Thursday March 2, 2017.

Joyful Heart is a national organization founded by TV actor-activist Mariska Hargitay, who plays a police lieutenant who investigates sexual assault cases on the popular series "Law & Order SVU." Hargitay credits Worthy, a member of the Joyful Heart board of directors, as being a "tireless advocate" for rape kit reform in Michigan and nationally. 

Hargitay also is the producer of the HBO documentary "I AM EVIDENCE," which profiled four sexual assault survivors whose rape kits went untested for years.

The state of Michigan has passed legislation that mandates that all new and backlogged sexual assault kits be tested. It also requires a quarterly audit of kits in the custody of law enforcement agencies, that kits be tracked and that survivors be given access to information about their rape kit.

“Mandating the swift testing of every sexual assault kit sends a powerful message to survivors that they — and their cases — matter. It sends a message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their crimes," said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy for Joyful Heart. "It is also the pathway to a more effective criminal justice system and safer communities across the country.

“When jurisdictions test every kit, they solve crimes, bring answers and a path to justice and healing for survivors, take criminals off the streets, and exonerate the wrongfully convicted,” she said.

The new requirements are being funded with state money as well as federal grants.

"Behind every kit is a person — a sexual assault survivor — waiting for justice," said Knecht.  "We stand with every survivor who has taken the step of reporting the crime to the police and endured an invasive examination in search of DNA evidence left behind by the attacker. Survivors who take this step expect that their rape kits will be tested. The public expects the same."


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