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Detroit's backlogged rape kits: Now there aren't enough investigators to handle all the cases

Oct 6, 2015

Credit http://www.npr.org/2015/02/10/384129985/advocates-join-fight-to-eliminate-detroit-s-rape-kit-backlog

Now that more than 10,000 of Detroit’s backlogged rape kits have finally been tested for DNA evidence, there’s good news and bad news.

The good (really good) news is that DNA evidence has already turned up some 2,600 hits in the FBI’s national criminal database, called CODIS (Combined DNA Index System).

Which means investigators have solid leads, whether it’s a DNA match between pieces of evidence in other unsolved crimes, or a match with an actual DNA profile of a known suspect.

And so far, much of that evidence is pointing to serial rapists.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy says they’ve been able to identify more than 549 suspected serial rapists.

“We have some cases where we have as many as 10 to 13 hits on the same offender, the same profile,” says Worthy.

“It’s astounding. We have many cases like that. Not just one. Not just two, three, four, five. We have many of those where we have over 10-plus hits on the same person.”

Now, the bad news. Well, more like the frustrating news

Just because they have  leads, doesn’t mean they have enough investigators to handle these cases.

"We have created a secondary backlog. Because we don't have the personnel to assign whenever we get a hit. So these [1,600 cases] basically sit in a stack until the investigator finishes their current case, and then turns to the new cases. It's incredibly frustrating."

“We’re currently investigating over 149 cases that are assigned to investigators right now,” says Worthy. “But there are more than 1,600 cases that are waiting to be assigned, where there has been a CODIS hit.”

Worthy says that’s because Wayne County only has 12 investigators assigned to these backlogged rape kits. That includes five Detroit police officers who are currently embedded in the prosecutors’ office.

Meanwhile, Worthy says a city like Cleveland, which discovered 4,000 backlogged rape kits, has more than 25 investigators solely dedicated to those cases.

“What that means is, we really have created a secondary backlog. Because we don’t have the personnel to assign whenever we get a CODIS hit that comes in,” Worthy says.

“So they basically sit in a stack until the investigator finishes their current case, and then turns to the new cases. It’s incredibly frustrating.”  

A new fundraising campaign from black women, targeting black women

This week a coalition of African American women’s groups gathered to kick off a new fundraising campaign called the “African American 490 Challenge.”

Organizers are asking women to donate $490 – the cost of testing a rape kit – in order to finish testing the final 1,300 or so kits still remaining from Detroit’s backlog.

Darci McConnell is one of the organizers of AA 490.

“Eighty-one percent of the victims in these cases are African American, and it’s predominantly women,” McConnell. “So it really struck home with all of us, that we need to take a stand for survivors, for black women.

“And then the other sad part is, this is the 20% of [survivors] that actually reported, and they were still denied justice, even going all the way and taking all the right steps.

“So we thought, what better way to take a stand, to stand for black women who have been victimized and see if we can raise awareness, raise money, and hopefully help them get justice.”

McConnell says the campaign has already worked with board members involved in the Girls Scouts and African American sororities around the state, planning house parties, putting together a speakers bureau to go to various events, and asking women to talk about the fundraising effort on their social media.

“We’re going to go door-to-door,” says McConnell. “We’re going to raise awareness, and we believe we can be successful.”