Joyful Heart in the News

Being Raped In A Bankrupt City

March 27, 2014
Emily Orley

Joshua Lott / Reuters / Reuters

On Feb. 17, 1997, at approximately 4 a.m, Audrey Polk was asleep in her sister’s house in Detroit, Mich., when a stranger broke in, snuck into the room where she was sleeping, and sexually assaulted her. The mother of two young children called the police, who sent over some officers who happened to be up the road at Leo’s Coney Island — a downtown staple — having a late-night snack.

As Polk remembered it, the police spent a few minutes walking around the house and left, barely doing anything. The case was handled so poorly, she said, that when one of the police officers who dealt with it testified in court more than a decade later, he admitted that he was embarrassed by how the investigation had been handled. “The police didn’t do a thing,” Polk said. “I was thinking to myself, Shame on them, shame on the entire department.”

After the police left, Polk also went to a Detroit hospital to have a rape kit compiled and to the police station to fill out a formal report. For months, she persistently followed up with the department about the progress of her case, but after repeated silence, she said, “I just gave up, and I wanted to let it go.”

Then, on Feb. 3, 2011, almost 14 years to the day after the attack, Polk finally heard from the prosecutor’s office. They said they knew who had raped her and wanted to know if she wanted to move forward with charging him. “For 14 years, I’m moving around knowing this person — monster, I should say — is out there and law enforcement never did anything,” Polk said. She eventually went ahead with the prosecution, and now her attacker is serving a 28-year sentence. But, she said, “They just left me on a shelf for all these years and nobody gave a damn.”

Polk was not alone. Her kit on the shelf was just one of 11,304 in Detroit’s backlog of untested rape kits.

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