In an unprecedented initiative, the cash-strapped city of Detroit has partnered with two nonprofits to raise $10 million for testing its huge backlog of rape kits and conducting further investigations of rape cases. Five years ago, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office discovered 11,000 untested kits in a Detroit police storage unit, a few of which date back 25 years.
The nonprofits Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit) and the Michigan Women’s Foundation (MWF) are collaborating with the Detroit Crime Commission and the County Prosecutor to spearhead the project (called Enough SAID), which has already received $750,000 in contributions from 45 states and eight countries. Although 2014 legislation by the Obama administration authorized federal grants to reduce rape kit backlogs, the money pays only for laboratory testing of kits, and even then often falls short of public need. It remains the responsibility of individual cities to fund subsequent investigations, as well as auxiliary costs.
A rape kit collects evidence of sexual assault such as clothing fibers, hair follicles, saliva, blood or semen. In many instances, the forensic evidence provided by a rape kit can be integral to the identification and prosecution of an assailant. But over the past few years an alarming national rape kit backlog has been revealed, which extends far past Detroit’s city boundaries. Approximately 400,000 of these kits are believed to remain forgotten in police warehouses across the United States. Some states, such as California, have taken legislative action to end the backlog: in 2014, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the “DNA Evidence Bill,” which imposed stringent timelines with regard to the collection and testing of rape kits.
Unfortunately, other states and cities, like Detroit, have faced one overarching challenge: money. Testing one rape kit can cost between $500 and $1,500, which, given the prevalence of sexual assaults—every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted—can be budget-busting for any city, let alone one in a financial rut.
The ultimate goal of the Detroit fundraising effort is to bring justice to survivors of sexual assault cases. Since the Detroit backlog’s discovery in 2009, about 2,000 rape kits have been tested, uncovering 670 DNA matches. Those matches helped prosecutors identify 188 serial rapists, 15 of whom were convicted—including Shelly Andre Brooks, now serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of seven women. It’s impossible not to wonder whether such gruesome crimes could have been prevented had the rape kits been tested earlier. Hopefully Detroit’s push for private funding of rape-kit testing will serve as an example for other cities who don’t have the necessary public resources.
To learn more about the cause or to donate to the Enough SAID campaign, visit http://enoughsaiddetroit.org.
Emily Mae Czachor is a print & digital journalism student at the University of Southern California. She is currently an editorial intern at Ms.