Michigan has become the newest state in the country to enact comprehensive rape kit reform.
With the development of a new statewide tracking system for sexual assault evidence kits, Michigan has now enacted all six pillars of reform recommended by the Joyful Heart Foundation and leaders in this field.
Joyful Heart, a national organization working to end the backlog of untested rape kits nationwide, has been at the forefront of rape kit reform since 2010, when founder and President Mariska Hargitay met Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.
Prosecutor Worthy, now a member of the Joyful Heart Board of Directors, has been a tireless advocate for rape kit reform in Michigan and around the country.
“Mandating the swift testing of every sexual assault kit sends a powerful message to survivors that they—and their cases—matter. It sends a message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their crimes. It is also the pathway to a more effective criminal justice system and safer communities across the country,” said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy for Joyful Heart. “When jurisdictions test every kit, they solve crimes, bring answers and a path to justice and healing for survivors, take criminals off the streets, and exonerate the wrongfully convicted.”
Prosecutor Worthy said, “The tremendous work that has been done in Michigan has been a multi-faceted, collaborative effort – from the tireless working prosecutors, investigators, and advocates to legislators, forensic examiners, and crime lab analysts to the highest levels of State government. And of course with a huge assist from the Joyful Heart Foundation. We all shared a fierce commitment to validate and support Michigan’s past sexual assault victims and to make sure future survivors are wrapped in the justice that they deserve.”
In Detroit, officials discovered a backlog of 11,341 untested kits in 2009. Testing has resulted in the identification of more than 800 potential serial rapists, and DNA has now been linked to crimes committed in 40 states and Washington, D.C.
Michigan has now passed legislation to: test all new and backlogged sexual assault kits; conduct quarterly audits of kits in law enforcement custody; track all kits; and provide survivors with access to information about the status of their kit. They have also funded these efforts with a state investment, which will be combined with federal grant dollars. Together, these laws will eliminate the backlog of untested kits, prevent future backlogs, support survivors, and help transform law enforcement’s response to sexual assault.
“Behind every kit is a person—a sexual assault survivor—waiting for justice. We stand with every survivor who has taken the step of reporting the crime to the police and endured an invasive examination in search of DNA evidence left behind by the attacker. Survivors who take this step expect that their rape kits will be tested. The public expects the same,” added Knecht.
Joyful Heart has created the premier national resource about the rape kit backlog, which includes an interactive map and resources for survivors, legislators, and the media. Learn more at: ENDTHEBACKLOG.org.