Society

Detroit Prosecutor Kym Worthy on a Mission to Solve 11,000 Forgotten Rapes

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About 11,000 rape kits had been piling up in a dusty Detroit police warehouse and were ignored for years until assistant prosecutor of Wayne County, Rob Spader, discovered them in 2009 —uncatalogued and uninvestigated. Spader brought them to the attention of prosecutor Kym Worthy, who was "flabbergasted" by what he found.

"When victims go through a three-hour-plus rape-kit exam, they expect police to use the evidence to catch the rapist," said Worthy to The Daily Beast. Ever since the find, Worthy's mission has been to investigate each rape kit and to bring the rapists to justice.

A rape kit is a sexual assault forensic evidence kit used for gathering and preserving physical evidence — such as saliva and semen — following a report of sexual assault. So far, 37 serial rapists have been identified and 13 cases have been brought against suspects as a result of Worthy's project. But it's been no easy task.

"There were no police reports attached to the kits," Worthy told The Daily Beast. Volunteers tackled them for hours each day to build a database, which took six to nine months, cataloguing it all from scratch. Worthy and her team were awarded a $1 million federal grant, which has helped complete the database but will not cover DNA testing for all 11,304 kits.

This massive backlog of uninvestigated rape kits is not exclusive to Detroit. In recent years, cities across the United States have reported thousands of neglected kits — 11,000 in San Antonio; 1,200 in Albuquerque; and 4,000 in Houston — according to Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch.

About 30 years ago, Worthy herself was a victim of rape. She was a law school student at the University of Notre Dame when she was attacked on a night jog around her apartment complex. She didn't report the rape.

"Things were different then," she told Newsweek earlier this year. "And I was young." Now, she calls her decision "all justification and rationalization."

Worthy's next challenge is to find the funding to see her project through to the end and finish testing all of Detroit's forgotten kits. But she's not alone. Other cities have tried and succeeded; Los Angeles has nearly eliminated a backlog of 12,500 kits while New York City managed to burn through their backlog of 16,000.