Survivor's Story: Michelle

As part of our series of stories from survivors of rape and sexual assault who have been affected by the backlog of untested rape kits, Michelle shares hers. We thank her and honor her courage in sharing what she has experienced.

I wanted to share my story to help add a sense of reality of the impact of the backlog on rape victims.

I was raped in 1984 by two men during a home invasion in Boston. They had a knife; I was blindfolded, raped repeatedly by both of them, tied up with a phone cord, gagged, and eventually left alive, much to my surprise. Perhaps it was the blindfold that saved my life. As I begged the men not to kill me, one of them said, “We don’t kill people. We just need the money. We’ve been doing this for seven years.” They were unafraid and unapologetic. They told me their first names; they did not wear gloves.

They left fingerprints all over the apartment, and I submitted to a rape kit thinking that this would help catch the men who did this.

The police interviewed me once. I called about a month after the attack and was asked by the detective why I was calling. I had been told they would call me if they knew anything. Honestly, the officer seemed annoyed; they said they would be in touch if they had a break in the case. I never heard from them again, no touching base, no effort to see how I was doing, no communication whatsoever.

Over the next seven years, there were a series of similar home invasion rapes in and around my neighborhood, and I have wondered if it was the same men who raped me.

Twenty years went by and I eventually went on with my life, periodically so impacted by the terror that I had experienced that I felt like I would never truly move past it – the nightmares, the startling, the constant feeling like my life was in danger. I now have a great life, but I will never forget this experience.

I knew that my rape kit was taken at a time, the 1980s, when DNA testing was not a routine part of a criminal case. But, in 2007, I read that the Boston Crime Lab had 6,000 untested rape kits, dating back to the mid 1980s that had never been tested. I began to hope that my kit might still be around, and could be tested to identify my attackers. I decided to find out more. Was my kit sitting in a refrigerator untested for 20 years? Might they have caught these men if they had bothered to test these kits? How many other women’s kits matched my own?

I called various offices—the police department that handled my case, the crime laboratory, and the prosecutor’s office. The answers were very hard to hear. Not because they told me my kit was tested, or that it was untested, or that it was destroyed. They were hard to hear because no one was able to tell me what had happened to my kit. I was told:

  • It’s probably not there. We doubt your kit is one of the untested ones but we’d never be able to find it anyway
  • What’s the point in looking; the statute of limitations has passed.
  • This was so long ago, they didn’t have a CODIS system then so they couldn’t have put your kit into a database.
  • This is ancient history. Why bring up old wounds?

Wounds cannot truly heal if no effort is made to salve them. We expect our law enforcement personnel to protect us. Certainly one of the ways to do this is to get rapists off the street and prevent them from harming again. We know that money has been funneled to police departments by the Debbie Smith Act, but still, police departments have used the money for other purposes, rather than addressing the backlog, denying key evidence that could match rapists to their crimes.

A story a few months ago in the Boston Globe said that very little progress has been made on the backlog in Massachusetts. Who is being held accountable for this? Where is the outrage? These are major crimes. In my case, the rapists would have served a life sentence if caught and convicted. DNA evidence is the best evidence we can have to help catch criminals, leading up to prosecution. There are untested rape kits that could tie individuals to repeat crimes, and that evidence is sitting as if it is completely unimportant.

Perhaps it is too late for me to see justice in my case, but the rape kit backlog only adds to my sense of loss and trauma. How can there be one category of crimes that the police seem to disregard. Once cities have successfully addressed their backlog, serial rapists have been caught and convicted – as in New York City.

Please help ensure that this issue will be remedied. I urge you to advocate for legislation that will hold public officials accountable for this terrible set of circumstances."

keep up with backlog news

END THE BACKLOG is a JOYFUL HEART FOUNDATION initiative and a proud supporter of