In 2009 more than 11,000 untested rape kits were discovered in Detroit’s abandoned crime lab. Rape kits contain the physical evidence of victims of sexual assault. When processed, the DNA data generated can be used not only to bring perpetrators to justice, but also to add this information to a national database of sex offenders. This is especially useful because those who commit these crimes are often serial rapists — if they are successfully prosecuted, it can prevent future instances and help victims to find closure.
In response to the situation, the state of Michigan passed a law to fund the processing of these rape kits. Still, there has been a need for private donations and fundraising campaigns to get through the backlog and then to provide money for investigators to actually finish the job.
It’s easy for those outside the city to shake our heads (or wag our fingers) and say this is all just another example of Detroit’s uniquely awful dysfunction. But as it turns out, further investigation has revealed that smaller cities and towns are also suffering from backlogged rape kits. From a recent Michigan Radio report:
“The Michigan Attorney General asked cities to submit a count of untested rape kits in their jurisdictions. Backlogs turned up in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Flint, Lansing, Battle Creek and several others.”
Exactly why this is, experts don’t really know, but the Detroit experience provides clues: Budget cuts and overwhelmed staffs. The lack of a clear and complete procedure for the entire process. Police sometimes callous indifference to the victims.
We are six weeks away from an election, so now is a pretty good time to ask: Do we want a responsive, reasonably funded government interested in real protection and prevention? Or do we want to continue down a path where rape victims end up depending on bake sales to provide them proper support? Please vote accordingly.