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Joyful Heart in the News
Wayne Co. prosecutor wins praise from actress for rape kit efforts
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy lobbied Wednesday for more federal support to test a backlog of more than 10,000 rape kits from Detroit and won praise from a national advocate for victims of sexual assault. After initially testing 400 of the kits picked at random from a backlog of 11,300 that were found in a Detroit police storage facility in 2009 for a pilot project, Worthy said they have completed testing another 398 rape kits.
Of those, 189 profiles had enough material to enter into the nationwide database known as CODIS, or Combined DNA Index System, resulting in 106 hits. Of those 106 hits, 29 serial rapists were identified, Worthy said.
“We’re just trying to survive at this point because of the budget cuts,” Worthy said. “What’s the point of doing all this if you’re not going to get them into CODIS, get the hits and go out and arrest these suspects and prosecute them?”
Worthy’s office has funding through March 2014 from the Justice Department to test 1,600 kits — or 800 more — by the Marshall University Forensic Science Center.
“We’re looking for funding sources anywhere we can find,” she said Wednesday. “I’m going over to Justice (Department) tomorrow to beg for some more.”
Mariska Hargitay, an actress on the television show “Law & Order: SVU” and an advocate for victims of sexual assault, said federal officials estimate there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits nationwide.
“The bottom line is a rape kit can bring justice,” Hargitay said in a speech at the National Press Club, where she praised Worthy, who was in attendance, as the “unbelievable, unstoppable Wayne County prosecutor.”
Hargitay said identifying 29 serial rapists “just goes to show and makes you think about what could have not happened.”
She recounted that one of the tested rape kits came from a Detroit mother of two who was raped in her bed 14 years ago with her children sleeping next to her. After the kit was tested, her attacker was charged, convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Hargitay’s group, the Joyful Heart Foundation, is working with Worthy’s office to help raise the $12 million to $15 million it would take to clear the backlog — “not to mention all of the money needed for investigative leads and to move the cases forward,” she said.
It’s not clear how many of these older cases will be prosecuted — or can be prosecuted — since some of the cases are more than a decade ago.
The Detroit Crime Commission also has raised about $40,000 to test more rape kits.