DETROIT (WWJ) – An award-winning actress is joining forces with Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy in her push for legislation and funding to clear a backlog of 11,000 untested rape kits in Detroit.
Mariska Hargitay joined Worthy at a news conference Monday at Frank Murphy Hall of Justice to discuss the partnership.
The state of Michigan recently appropriated $4 million to send the last roughly 7,400 kits to private labs for testing, and the Michigan State Police recently said all the kits should be tested by the end of this year.
According to the prosecutor’s office, additional legislation will be introduced over the next several months dealing with tracking evidence, victims’ rights and addressing any speeding up the testing of abandoned rape kits in Detroit and around the country.
Hargitay — known for her TV role on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” — is the founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which works with rape victims. .
What was Hargatay’s reaction when she heard about Detroit’s backlog or rape kits?
“I was in shock,” Hargitay said. “I was outraged, and I just assumed that kits were tested.”
Hargitay said that the backlog sends the wrong message to everyone.
“We’re essentially saying to rapists, hey come rape,” Hargitay said. “You know why? You won’t be prosecuted. No one even cares.”
Rape kits, performed in the aftermath of a sexual assault, contain and preserve evidence from an examination of a survivor who chooses to report her rape to the police. Prosecutors say evidence in the kit can be a very powerful tool to bring a perpetrator to justice, and funding for testing of the rape kits is essential.
It’s hard enough to try to get a victim to come forward, Hargitay said.
“But when they do and go through and say I am a going to do this, and walk through like a hero,” she said. “And then it doesn’t get tested, it was mind-blowing to me. My head exploded.”
To date, 1,600 of those 11,000 rape kits —found in a Detroit police warehouse in 2009 have been tested; and, according to prosecutors, 100 serial rapists have been identified.
With an estimated 400,000 untested rape kits nationwide, Hargitay believes that Detroit could set the tone for the rest of the country in getting the rape kits tested.
“If you guys do it here in Detroit, if you do it here in Michigan, the rest of the country can figure it out,” Hargitay said.