Cleveland, Detroit and Memphis are all cities that discovered backlogs of untested rape kits in their jurisdictions, tested those kits and entered the DNA profile into CODIS, the national DNA database. Testing these backlogged rape kits has resulted in the identification of nearly 1,000 potential serial rapists.
It is estimated that only between 2 and 8% of rape accusations are false. Yet rape victims face one of the steepest barriers to being believed by the criminal justice system, and their cases are the least likely of any violent crime to move forward through prosecution. Several news articles over the past few days illustrate just how steep that barrier can be.
On Tuesday, January 6th 2015, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, Detroit Crime Commission, and Michigan Women’s Foundation announced a new public-private collaboration for justice: Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit).
An untested rape kit from 1988 was recently tested in Detroit, leading to the arrest and conviction of serial offender Michael Eugene Swygart. Twenty-five years after the rape took place, Swygart has been sentenced to 40-75 years in prison on charges of criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping.
We sometimes hear from jurisdictions that they don’t consider the untested rape kits in their storage facilities to be part of a backlog—that officials actively chose not to test those kits. These jurisdictions fail to see the value of testing every kit booked into evidence, particularly when the identity of the perpetrator is known.
Our new series, Cold Case Convictions, begins, highlighting the consequences in allowing rape kits to remain untested, as well as the value DNA evidence has for bringing justice to victims of sexual assault.
If not for New York City’s rape kit backlog project, Michael Mercer might have spent the rest of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.
As NPR reported this week, "rape kits give evidence to victims' stories." Law enforcement must count, track and test the kits in their evidence rooms—they must believe and honor survivors' decisions to participate in the criminal justice process.
Yesterday's report on sexual assault from the White House demonstrates the Administration's deep commitment to ending sexual violence and improving the responses of our government, our criminal justice system, our schools and our communities, but also identifies that there is still a great deal of work to be done.
A courageous survivor named Helena and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy appeared alongside Mariska Hargitay to shed light on the backlog. Helena waited 14 years for justice. Worthy is working to address the backlog of over 11,000 in Detroit.