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Private Citizens Finding Solutions to Rape Kit Backlog Problem

09-Nov-2015

Last month, we published an article in the Huffington Post detailing a serious backlog in rape kit testing. In some cases, women have waited more than a decade for their rape kit to be tested. In other cases, the kit that could convict their rapist was never tested at all. 

The article detailed how the District Attorney's Office in Manhattan and the United States Justice Department pledged nearly $80 million to try to ease the backlog, giving the money to 43 law enforcement agencies in 27 states. It's a nice start, but it falls far short of what is needed. After all, there are more than 18,000 police departments in the United States. This funding will apply to only a tiny fraction of those agencies. And at last count, there were 50 states in the U.S., not 27. 

There are at least 70,000 untested rape kits in 1,000 law enforcement offices around the nation. If the rates hold true for the remaining 17,000 police departments, there could be more than 1.2 million untested rape kits--warehoused, forgotten, and containing the evidence to convict the guilty, exonerate the innocent, and give justice to the victims.

Because the current funding is insufficient to combat the inconceivable rape kit backlog, private citizens are taking the matter into their own hands. 

A group of businesswomen in Detroit (where more than 10,000 forgotten rape kits were discovered abandoned for up to 30 years in a warehouse) is teaming up to fund rape kit testing. 

When the 11,341 rape kits were discovered, the head of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office vowed to test them all; however, funding was an issue. At a cost of more than $1,100 each, it would require more than $17 million to test them all. Eventually, the office received $4 million from the state, and the prosecutor's office was able to negotiate a reduced price for testing. Still, more than 1100 old kits remained, and new cases were piling up, making the task of catching up seem impossible.

A local businesswoman read about the rape kit backlog and knew that the resources were available to test these kits--people just needed to know about the problem and work for a solution. Joanna Cline, chief marketing officer for Fathead, contacted 200 Detroit business leaders. These businesses began working together to raise money and their efforts launched a public-private initiative called Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit), a joint effort of the Michigan Women's Foundation, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, and the Detroit Crime Commission. 

The group has raised $1.3 million from private donors and has received $7.6 million in public funding. As a result, the county has secured 27 convictions and identified 652 suspected serial rapists. There are nearly 200 cases under investigation and nearly 1600 more awaiting investigation.

This is a remarkable effort by private citizens who find the rape kit backlog to be a grave injustice, but there are critics. After all, private citizens already pay taxes; theoretically, we are already funding these issues. Should it fall on private citizens and business owners to "address a criminal justice crisis?"

Well, no. It shouldn't have to be that way--but justice matters, and it takes dedicated people fighting for what they believe is right to make a difference. 



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