An effort to investigate and prosecute crimes against LGBTQ people in Wayne County is expanding.
The Fair Michigan Justice Project was founded a little less than a year ago. It’s a partnership between Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office and the LGBTQ advocacy group Fair Michigan.
Attorney Dana Nessel heads the project. She says anti-LGBTQ crimes have historically been underreported and left unsolved. That’s partly due to the reluctance of victims and witnesses in the LGBTQ community to talk to police.
“Law enforcement hasn’t always been so responsive or respectful to the community. And lots of people were frankly afraid to report these offenses when they had been victims of crime, even serious crimes,” Nessel said.
Attorneys with the nonprofit work as special prosecutors and focus exclusively on investigating anti-LGBTQ crimes. And while they bring cases on behalf of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, they are employees of Fair Michigan.
Nessel says that’s an important distinction because one of the reasons victims and witnesses are hesitant to talk to law enforcement is the fear that they could be charged with a crime if they struggle with substance abuse or are involved in sex work.
One of the project’s cases involved a transgender woman who was shot in the face by her john while working as a prostitute.
“And time was, you know, she may not have even reported that. And time was, honestly, maybe the police would not have been very cooperative in assisting her with that. But she knew she didn’t have to worry about that working with us,” said Nessel.
The Fair Michigan Justice Project consists of an attorney, an investigator, and a victim’s advocate. In its first year, it has secured convictions in nine cases involving assault, child abuse, rape, and extortion of LGBTQ people.
Nessel says that the three-person team has worked hard to develop relationships with the LGBTQ community in Wayne County, and the trust they’ve built has helped their caseload steadily grow.
“As people feel more comfortable coming forward and reporting these offenses because our task force is in existence, the more cases there are,” said Nessel.
But with the increased caseload comes a need for more staff.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement that the project is looking to fund another prosecutor and investigator for the team.
“This collaboration has been more successful than imagined,” Worthy wrote. “Clearly, members of the LGBTQ community are safer and more engaged since the WCPO and FMJP created this partnership.”
Right now, the Fair Michigan Justice Project is funded entirely through private donations.
CORRECTION: An earlier of this version of this article incorrectly stated that the Fair Michigan Justice Project had secured four convictions since its creation last year. The project has actually secured nine convictions.