In 2009, a tour of the overflow evidence storage facility for the Detroit Police Department turned up 11,303 untested rape kits. While the police were quick to offer handwaving “justifiable reasons” for not testing many of them, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has made it a personal initiative to test every one of the kits and establish a protocol to help other states process their own backlogs of kits.
“We were literally blowing off dust and dirt off of those books so we can open them up and see if we can find any information in these books that would match the rape kit,” Worthy said. “My prosecutors that are overworked, underpaid and have too much to do volunteered on their own time because we were all concerned about this issue.”
So far, 600 kits have been tested, and investigators say that they have discovered evidence of 21 serial rapists. Grant money funded the testing of those kits. Worthy said it costs on average between $1,200 and $1,500 to get each kit tested. People have wanted to donate money to help get kits tested, but the prosecutor’s office cannot solicit or collect funds. But now a non-profit organization, the Detroit Crime Commission, has set up a fund and will manage it for the purpose of accepting donations and using those funds to help pay to get kits tested.
Some of the kits tested have revealed sobering results. One kit from 2002 revealed DNA belonging to a man who was in prison for the murder of three women. The murders had been committed during the seven years the rape kit sat on a warehouse shelf.
In February of 1997, a home invader raped Audrey Polk as she lay in bed with her infant daughter and six-year-old son. She immediately called the police, went to the hospital for a rape kit, and continued to follow up with the police until it became apparent that they weren’t interested in pursuing it with any vigor. For more than a decade afterward, she and her children have struggled with life after the attack.
Fourteen years after the attack that altered her and her family’s life forever, she received a knock on the door from a Wayne County assistant prosecutor.
“I opened the door, and I said, ‘Ma’am, I’ve never done anything wrong in my life,’ and she goes, ‘No, we know who raped you 14 years ago.’ And I’m looking at her, like, are you really serious?” Polk said. “And the first thing she said, ‘Well, do you still want to prosecute?’ And I said, ‘Certainly, absolutely, yes, I do.’”
Polk’s assailant was found guilty and sentenced to up to 60 years in prison.
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