A decade ago, 11,341 sexual assault kits from reported rape cases over the years were found in a decrepit Detroit warehouse. By now, thousands of women have been notified that their kits finally were tested, which has led to hundreds of investigations and the identification of 824 suspected serial rapists. Altogether, 282 cases have been adjudicated, resulting in 197 convictions. Investigators continue to build cases from the kits they’ve had tested. As of Aug. 9, 211 cases are being actively investigated, with 377 awaiting investigation, the Detroit News reports, citing data from the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.
The work by an interdisciplinary team of law enforcement, prosecutors, crime lab analysts and advocates has also led to the extradition of criminals in 39 other states and spawned statewide reforms in the tracking of rape kits so they never are forgotten again. Despite some setbacks, experts say Detroit has emerged as a national leader in how to work through backlogs of untested rape kits, a failure in many urban centers. Rebecca Campbell, a Michigan State University psychology professor and expert on sexual assault, pointed to the work of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and her office. They created a designated cold-case unit for sexual assault investigations, prosecutions and “trauma-informed” notifications. “They have created guidelines and policies and procedures that are a model for other jurisdictions in how to create such a cold-case unit, how to staff it, the investigational techniques that are used by the investigators in that unit; the trauma-informed approach they use in victim notification and the prosecutor’s office practice of reviewing every single case, regardless of the forensic DNA results,” Campbell said.