Snyder, Schuette, Wayne County Prosecutor announce plan to bring justice to victims of sexual violence

From State of Michigan sources

Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette, joined by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, have announced a $4 million plan to DNA-test thousands of unprocessed rape kits from crimes committed in the City of Detroit. The goal of the plan is to remove rapists and other violent criminals from Southeastern Michigan streets, protecting the region from serial criminals, as well as beginning the process of securing justice for women who were the victims of horrific crimes.

Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, Director of the Michigan State Police, and Debi Cain, Executive Director of Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, joined in the announcement.
“It is so important to understand the significance of today’s announcement for public safety,” said Prosecutor Worthy.  “Governor Snyder and Bill Schuette... have shown a real commitment to making sure that Wayne County, the entire State of Michigan, and even citizens across the country will be safe from rapists. I applaud them.”

“Thousands of victims have been waiting too long for the justice they deserve,” Snyder said.  “This initiative will start us on the path to find justice for these victims. It also will help us improve public safety in Michigan by catching and locking up more of these vicious criminals.  This initiative is a prime example of how state and local agencies can work together to find innovative ways to fight crime.  I congratulate Attorney General Schuette, Prosecutor Worthy, and the Michigan State Police for developing this cooperative approach.”

“The discovery that evidence in thousands of violent crimes against women was ignored for years is an absolute travesty of justice and left Southeastern Michigan vulnerable to future violence that could have been avoided,” said Schuette. “Every woman who was a victim of sexual violence deserves a full and complete investigation, and these funds will begin the road to justice for those who have already waited too long.”

To fund the rape kit testing, Snyder included a $4 million appropriation for the State Forensics Laboratory Fund in his proposed supplemental budget currently under review by the legislature.  The appropriation is funded by settlement monies recovered by Schuette from state and national litigation.

In 2009, approximately 11,300 untested rape kits dating back 25 years were discovered in a Detroit Police Department property storage facility.  Each rape kit has the potential to solve multiple crimes, including those committed by serial rapists.  Since the closure of the Detroit Police Department Crime Laboratory in Sept. 2009, the Michigan State Police (MSP) has been providing forensic science services to the city of Detroit and Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. The MSP’s Forensic Science Division has been instrumental in the lab analysis of sexual assault kits and will continue to work with the prosecutor’s office and the Detroit Police Department on efforts to test the remaining sexual assault kits.

Although media reports suggest untested kits have been problematic in cities around the country, Detroit and Houston are two jurisdictions currently working with the National Institute of Justice to determine how to approach the testing of previously untested kits to determine the best criminal justice outcome. Prosecutor Worthy has worked with a unique collaborative team of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, researchers and victim advocates to work toward testing every kit.  With a grant from the federal government’s Office on Violence Against Women to the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, Worthy joined MSP, the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, and Michigan State University to create “Project 400,” an effort to test 400 randomly selected kits to determine the nature of the evidence and what kinds of cases are connected to the evidence. Since the completion of Project 400, an additional 1,600 kits have been submitted for testing and 569 have undergone the lengthy process.  

Worthy continued, “My office has been hard at work with these 11,303 rape kits for four years. Testing is very expensive, and already approximately $1.5 million in federal grant funds have been secured from the National Institute of Justice and over $50,000 in private donations have been allocated for this purpose. ... Of those tested, we found 136 CODIS (DNA) ‘hits’ in 11 states and the District of Columbia, and 32 serial rapists have been identified.  With the money that will be provided today for further testing, thousands more kits can be tested.  The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office is committed to prosecuting every single case that [results from] these hits.”

In other cases, DNA testing results connected multiple rapes to a single perpetrator, and this evidence will help law enforcement further investigate to determine the identity of the rapist.

To date, Worthy has launched five prosecutions as a result of the testing.  “Despite the fact that national crime statistics have long indicated that sexual assault is one of the most unreported violent crimes, in Michigan, we want sexual assault victims to know that a compassionate and victim-centered criminal justice response is a priority,” said Debi Cain, Executive Director, Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board.  “The collaborative... leadership of Gov. Snyder and General Schuette, and the... commitment of Prosecutor Worthy, sends an important message to sexual assault victims across Michigan.”

In 2011, the National Institute of Justice has published a report on the challenge of untested rape kits nationwide, called The Road Ahead: Unanalyzed Evidence in Sexual Assault Cases, available online at https://ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/233279.pdf.

Michigan victims of sexual violence are encouraged to call the national sexual assault hotline toll-free, 1-800-656-HOPE.  All calls are confidential, and will be answered by a local counseling center.  Assistance is also available online at www.rainn.org.