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.
Every year, thousands of individuals take the courageous step of reporting their rape to the police. They overcome the terrible, misplaced social stigma of being the victim of sexual violence. A forensic exam of their bodies typically takes four to six hours. The evidence is then collected in a “Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit” — a rape kit.
The Prosecutor's Office says 11,000 rape kits have been found sitting on the shelves at a police annex building. Most of the kits were untested, until now.
Every year, thousands of individuals take the courageous step of reporting their rape to the police. They overcome the terrible, misplaced social stigma of being the victim of sexual violence. They overcome the warnings sometimes uttered by the rapist to keep silent. They overcome the suggestions that these issues ought not to be spoken of, and they speak up.
The forensic examination of their bodies, the crime scene, typically takes four to six hours, and yields what is called a rape kit. And experts estimate there are hundreds of thousands of rape kits sitting untested throughout the country.
In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced the state will dedicate $4 million in legal settlement funds toward clearing the backlog of thousands of untested rape kits in Wayne County. The state legislature must now appropriate the funds through a special funding bill, which has already passed in the House of Representatives. In Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill making the state the third—following Illinois and Texas—to require the testing of all rape kits. Going forward, the newly passed legislation requires law enforcement agencies to submit rape kit evidence for testing within 21 days of receipt.
As officials in Detroit, Michigan are beginning to test rape kits that have been sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities—some for decades—DNA evidence has already linked to multiple possible perpetrators. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has identified 21 potential serial rapists from the first 153 kits that the crime lab tested and entered into CODIS, the national DNA database, according to news reports.
We are happy to share with you that we have raised more than $5,500 through our GlobalGiving project to continue our work to end the backlog of untested rape kits and bring healing and justice to survivors of sexual assault.