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Marking Detroit's Progress to End the Rape Kit Backlog
In 2009, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office discovered 11,304 untested rape kits sitting in a Detroit Police Department storage facility, representing—at the time—the largest known backlog in the United States and thousands of lost opportunities for healing and justice for survivors. Today, $4 million in state funds have been granted to Detroit to end its backlog. $150,000 has been raised in private funds to investigate leads and prosecute these crimes. 1,600 kits have been tested and 100 potential serial rapists identified.
For three years, Joyful Heart has been part of the collaborative partnership between prosecutors, law enforcement, researchers, city officials and advocates who have made rape kit testing a priority in Detroit. And this week, members of the Joyful Heart team, including our Founder & President, Mariska Hargitay, were honored to be in Detroit to celebrate this progress and address the work that is yet to come.
Our visit included an event to help raise the funds needed for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to fully investigate and prosecute leads generated from rape kit testing, an educational visit with and speech by Mariska to members of the Michigan legislature, and a press conference to update the community on the incredible progress being made in Detroit. Mariska also announced that she will be producing a documentary about the rape kit backlog, for which Joyful Heart will serve as a social action partner, counsel and beneficiary of the film.
But the true highlight of our visit was meeting with the deeply dedicated community members, who are putting not just their time and expertise—but their hearts—into ending Detroit's backlog. The importance of their efforts were underscored in the testimony of one survivor who shared her story:
"It feels so good to know that I may have been a victim, but I am now a survivor. Knowing my attacker is in prison is such a relief. My faith in the justice system is being restored. That chapter of my life is finally closed and I hope that thousands of other women will have the chance I did."
Since those kits were discovered sitting in a warehouse, Detroit has become a model to cities across the nation grappling with their own backlogs. And despite significant financial hardships, the city is securing the funds needed to test every last kit in its backlog. Its community members are sending the message to survivors that they—and their cases—matter. That they have not and will not be forgotten.
That message has also reached all the way to the federal government. President Obama's administration and Congress have taken note of Detroit’s progress and included $36 million in the proposed FY2015 Appropriations bill for communities to convene multidisciplinary teams to clear backlogs of untested kits in police storage facilities, investigate and prosecute cases and re-engage survivors, just as Detroit is doing.
Despite these tremendous accomplishments, Detroit still needs us. With thousands upon thousands of kits being tested, that means thousands of leads to investigate, survivors to re-engage with compassion and care, and cases to move forward to prosecution. The city needs even more resources to make all of this possible while also responding to newly reported cases.
Here’s what Mariska said while we were there:
“Many of the donations have come in $10 and $20 increments from across the county. They are coming from people who want justice, people who want rapists off the streets, people who want to send rapists the message that they will be held accountable. From people just like you.”
We urge you to make a donation to Sexual Assault Free Detroit, and to visit www.ENDTHEBACKLOG.org to learn more and join our efforts to end the backlog of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in the United States. Be part a part of this groundbreaking progress. Together we can—we will—end the backlog.