100 Serial Rapists Have Been ID’d in Detroit


Five years ago, 11,000 untested rape kits were discovered in a police storage facility in Detroit. So far, just 1,600 kits have been tested, but that small number has yielded startling results: 100 serial rapists have been identified, and the DNA of 10 since-convicted rapists has been found.

So what do these findings mean? Of 1,600 women raped in Detroit in the last 25 years, 100 of their attackers raped more than once. And among convicted rapists in Michigan, 10 might have been caught sooner had some of these decades-old kits been tested.

Mariska Hargitay, founder of the nonprofit End the Backlog and star of Law and Order: SVU, spoke Monday about the findings, saying, “My head exploded. We have the means to do it, and DNA equals justice.”

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, who spearheaded the effort to clear Detroit’s backlog, said that 14 prosecutions so far have resulted from these kits getting tested. She and Hargitay announced legislation that aims to end the state’s rape-kit backlog by laying out rules for how and when kits should be handled. It will soon be presented to Michigan legislators.

Nationwide, there are an estimated 400,000 rape kits lying untested. If all of those kits were tested, untold numbers of serial offenders could be identified. Research shows that 63 to 71 percent of offenders rape more than once, committing an average of six assaults each. And serial rapists are responsible for 91 to 95 percent of all rapes.

“Every time you get one of these guys out of the community, you’re really actually doing a lot to prevent sexual assaults,” said sexual abuse researcher David Lisak in the summer 2011 issue of Ms.

Indeed, the data proves what activists have long known: Rapists go on raping with impunity unless they’re caught. Imagine the number of survivors who might have been spared if those rape kits in Detroit had been tested sooner.

Each rape kit that goes untested represents a lost opportunity for justice. Each untested kit also represents a survivor who endured an invasive medical exam involving scraping, prodding and photographing, that can last up to six hours. If those kits are never tested, it’s as if she was victimized twice: once by her assailant and once by the justice system.

So far, just three states—Colorado, Illinois and Texas—have legislation governing when and how rape kits must be tested. But there is a movement afoot to see these laws enacted nationwide, since local police don’t often have the resources or systems in place to handle testing. We’ll be watching to see if Michigan steps up for sexual-assault victims.

Photo of researcher removing DNA from a test tube, from Wikimedia Commons




Stephanie Hallett is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. She can be found on Twitter @stephhallett


  1. I’m curious as to why there is such a backlog in the first place.

    • Lack of money (and motivation to GET the money) to test the kits.

    • As other commenters have said, these rape kits were taken from women, and legislatures dominated by men just don’t care enough to divert funds to this issue. It’s a miscarriage of justice and absolutely terrible that more attention (and money) is not given to this. We need some sort of national policy of rape kit testing, rather than getting it done piecemeal state by state.

  2. Nora Edwards says:

    It is criminal that sexual assault is not taken more seriously. If the serial rapists were caught, prosecuted and jailed, life would be so much safer.

  3. Rape isn t taken seriously because most of the victims are women and children. Wr need to speak up for ourselves and each other. As a survivor I do know how difficult that is. If we stay silent nothing will change.

    ficult that
    is. I ve been through tbe system

  4. If this was about crimes against men the money would be there (eg: Viagra funding). Shame on governments for not making this more of a priority.

  5. Diane Alberts says:

    However, if these victims got pregnant, I’m sure that their legislators would be very involved in the outcome. It’s despicable that there are so many legislators in this country, including ironically, Texas, that pooh-pooh rape, deny its possible outcome ( a pregnant victim), but do nothing to prevent it. It’s barbaric.

  6. Holly Roy says:

    I wonder if some of these (or most) are because the survivor dropped the charges, either of their own volition or because someone told them it would be too hard to get a conviction… It could be a budgetary issue, i know certain companies offer larger bonuses if they can save money through the year…

    • Anonymous badger says:

      Can’t drop charges where no charges have been laid. These are unsolved cases that might have been solved had the rape kits been tested and yielded a suspect to arrest, charge, try & convict.
      No testing? No suspects. No charges. No justice.

  7. Travis Bickle says:

    I don’t know why people are saying that sexual assault isn’t taken seriously – the amount of attention it receives far outweighs its proportion of overall crime. Given that the overwhelming majority of sexual assault is committed by a person known to the victim, I doubt that the backlog of rape kits is quite as serious an issue as it’s being made out to be. The primary value of a DNA sample in a sexual assault is to establish A) the actus reus (IE that intercourse or other sexual contact actually occurred) and/or B) to establish the identity of the assailant. Since identity is rarely an unknown with sexual assaults, I question how vital these tests are to the prosecution of alleged rapists. The accused can deny sexual contact ever took place but it doesn’t take DNA to prove the AR beyond a reasonable doubt – the testimony of the complainant can be enough. Circumstantial evidence in the form of injuries such as tearing or bruises can also help to prove it.

    Ultimately, DNA is silent on the issue of consent or a mistaken belief therein. As such, it’s of limited use in the prosecution of most sexual assaults where those are the primary issues in contention. As with most discussion of sexual assault in the mainstream media, this is more about perception than reality.

  8. I’m curious about how much it costs the state to test each rape kit, and what is involved in the process to determine that cost. If it is an issue of not enough lab technicians to get the job of testing rape kits done, couldn’t the state hire one or two more technicians to concentrate on that ONE job?

    It seems to me that too many states are providing nothing more than excuses for not testing rape kits right after they are taken. If the kits were tested in a short time frame, there wouldn’t be such a backlog in the first place.

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