Prosecutor Kym Worthy brings justice to survivors at last.
In 2009, 11,000 untested rape kits were unearthed in a Detroit police warehouse, containing the DNA of perpetrators who could have been identified and linked to other crimes. Countless such kits sit untested nationwide. Trailblazing Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy took action and made the Michigan kits a priority. Through groundbreaking partnerships and legislation, she’s tackling the backlog to finally test the old kits and bring long overdue justice to survivors.
For Worthy, the issue is professional and personal: She’s also a survivor of sexual assault. She talked to NO MORE about her crusade.
WHY IS THIS BACKLOG ISSUE SO SIGNIFICANT?
The criminal justice system loses credibility when things like this happen. When sexual assault is already so underreported, this only makes people lose more faith. For women to be so intimately violated and then to go through the additional violation of an exam—they deserve a resolution. That evidence should be used by law enforcement to find her perp. Then she finds out that, after being assaulted, going through a four-to-ten-hour exam, it’s just sitting on a shelf for years and years? That person can’t believe in the criminal justice system, and other potential survivors can’t have faith in the criminal justice system. We need to make sure that our survivors know we’re doing everything we can to make sure it never happens again. We are going to try to bring justice to them now.
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION ON DISCOVERING THESE BACKLOGGED KITS?
I was very angry: How did this happen? But, you know what? I had to move on. I couldn’t spend my energy looking back on how it happened. Obviously, we had to make sure it didn’t happen again. I had to focus on getting these kits tested, prosecuted, and focus on that. The way law enforcement treats these survivors is a priority.
IDEALLY, AFTER AN EXAM, WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN?
A rape kit should be picked up by law enforcement, taken to a lab and examined, and evidence should then be entered into a DNA database and to help find the link to other crimes. Rapists rape an average of 11 times; catching one is akin to catching many more. Most rapists are serial rapists.
Rapists rape an average of 11 times; catching one is akin to catching many more. Most rapists are serial rapists.
WHAT INITIATIVES ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW, AND HOW WILL THEY HELP SURVIVORS?
We just passed the Sexual Assault Kit Evidence Submission Act, which puts a timeline of about four months on testing for law enforcement and crime labs. It makes sure that going forward rape kits don’t sit in police departments and aren’t backed up. We had huge bipartisan support. We still have to deal with the old ones, though. We’re getting a handle on that. We’re also working with UPS to develop a tracking system on these kits. If we can track packages on Amazon, we should be able to track the shipments of these kits.
We’re also working on Enough SAID. [The partnership teams the prosecutor’s office with the Michigan’s Women’s Foundation and the Detroit Crime Commission for a pioneering collaboration to raise $10 million to tackle the rape kit backlog. The money will fund a cold case sexual assault team of detectives and attorneys to handle the kits.] Through Enough SAID, we’re proving that through focus, patience, and passion, this can be done.
WHAT DOES THE ENOUGH SAID INITIATIVE SIGNIFY TO THE SURVIVOR COMMUNITY?
That we have the potential to bring justice to thousands who wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise. We’re giving them confidence that every effort will be taken to give them justice.
HOW DOES YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A SURVIVOR SHAPE YOUR WORK?
I don’t think I’d be any less passionate even if not a survivor. How can anyone with humanity turn their backs on this issue?
THIS ISN’T UNIQUE TO MICHIGAN. HOW CAN PEOPLE IN OTHER STATES TACKLE THE BACKLOG PROBLEM?
Make it a public issue. Go to your police chief and legislature. Be vocal. The more we talk about it, the more we can make sure this doesn’t happen again. When a woman does have the courage to get an exam done, we need make sure we honor that and follow through.
Learn more about the rape kit backlog in your state and how you can help ENDTHEBACKLOG.