Actress Mariska Hargitay, known for her role as Sergeant Olivia Benson in NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, is taking her on-screen work and mixing it with real life. After finding out that hundreds of thousands of rape kits across the country have been sitting in storage facilities untested for years, Hargitay and Wayne County, Michigan Prosecutor Kym Worthy have joined together to make sure these rape kits are tested and rapists are brought to justice.
Worthy says that around 11,000 rape kits have been sitting in a Detroit police storage facility for many years, and just over the last few years, her office has slowly started going through them. Now, Worthy, with help from Hargitay and her organization the Joyful Heart Foundation, is pushing legislation that would create processes and timelines for the testing of rape kits.
"Every day in the United States women and men take the courageous step of reporting their rape to the police," said Hargitay. "And because of what those individuals have suffered, their bodies are crime scenes. They're living, breathing, feeling crime scenes from which doctors and nurses collect evidence in a sexual assault collection kit." Hargitay also noted that the issue with rape kit backlog and a lack of testing “is the clearest and most shocking demonstration of how we regard these crimes in our country.”
The 11,000 untested rape kits in Detroit were found back in 2009, and since then, Worthy’s office has attempted to go through them. In close to five years, Worthy says that nearly 1,600 rape kits have been tested and around 100 serial rapists have been identified, with 10 going on to be convicted.
"These rape kits in Michigan are over 25 years old, and we want to make sure we deal with the victims mercifully and honestly," said Worthy. "Our ultimate goal when it comes to the legislative side is to identify and apprehend those offenders as soon as possible to stop serial rapists."
According to reports, Michigan has earmarked around $4 million to fund the testing of rape kits in Detroit, and President Obama has proposed $35 million in next year’s budget specifically for national rape kit testing. Reports claim that an estimated 400,000 rape kits have gone unprocessed nationally.
"This federal funding is a direct result of Kym's tireless and relentless work here in Detroit," said Hargitay. "I'm here in Detroit because I think we have an awesome opportunity with someone who knows how to do it. If you do it here in Detroit, the rest of the country can figure it out."
The legislation is set to be introduced this month.