In August 2009, an assistant prosecutor in Detroit discovered more than 11,000 sexual assault kits warehoused in a city police storage unit. A preliminary
investigation suggested that most of the kits — filled with DNA
evidence taken from invasive physical examinations of victims
— had never been tested, and some had been gathering dust
for three decades.
The Wayne County prosecutor’s office brought in Rebecca
Campbell, PhD, a community psychologist at Michigan State
University, to lead a multidisciplinary task force to assess the
scope of the problem, figure out why the kits had never been
tested, and develop a plan to test them and notify victims of
In a report released last year, Campbell and her colleagues
found that 8,717 of the 11,219 kits had never been submitted
for forensic testing. That was partly due to lack of resources
and budget, but it was also due to entrenched biases against
sexual assault victims, particularly young women, victims
of so-called “date rape” and victims that the police believed
were prostitutes. The team then tested more than 1,500 of the
kits, and found that more than one-quarter yielded DNA that
matched offenders in the FBI’s national offender database.
Based on that finding, Detroit decided to test all of the kits.
Last October, Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy told the
media that 2,616 of the kit samples matched to offenders in the
FBI database. Among the matches were 549 suspected serial
Campbell is now consulting with other cities as they deal
with similar backlogs of untested rape kits. She spoke to the
Monitor about this work.
Were you surprised by what you ultimately found
No. I think the national discussion about the problem of
untested rape kits has focused a lot on the fact that there have
not been enough financial resources to test the kits. And we
sexual assault cases sat forgotten in a city storage facility for decades. Now she is
bringing her expertise to other jurisdictions around the country.
By Lea Winerman
sexual assault victims