And a lot of these victims had gone through that exam because
they were trying to prevent this from happening to somebody
else. And when those kits weren’t tested, it often did happen
to somebody else, and to somebody else after that and to
somebody else after that.
Part of your task was to develop a protocol for
notifying those victims that their kits had been
found, and would be tested, perhaps decades after
the assault had occurred. How did they react?
We put a lot of time and thought into developing the
victim notification protocol. It’s very complicated. The legal
community sees this as a critical moment in the case, in terms
of re-contacting the victim and potentially doing another
interview. Those of us in psychology and social work see it as
a re-activation of someone’s traumatic memory — opening
up a very painful memory in someone’s past without notice or
So, we really needed a multidisciplinary team to make sure
that the appropriate legal issues were being attended to, but also
that the victims’ emotional and physical health was also being
We had a two-day retreat of all of the disciplines — law
enforcement, prosecution, forensic sciences, social work,
psychology and victim advocacy — to talk about how to do this.
Then all of the notifying staff went through extensive training
on the neurobiology of trauma and what research tells us about
how people react in traumatic situations, and what we can do as
practitioners to try to mitigate that trauma.
Given that, when we went out and started doing the
notifications, most victims had either a neutral response, which
under the circumstance is probably a good thing, or some
were very positive and were very happy that somebody had recontacted them and that something was happening.
A small percentage did say, “No, I’ve moved on in my life,
I don’t want to do this anymore, please leave.” And so the
notifying staff did. We respected the victims’ choice.
At this point, what is the status of the testing and
the possible legal cases that could come out of the
matches with the FBI database?
My understanding is that all of the kits have now been
tested — after our study was finished, the prosecutor’s office
secured funding to test the rest of the kits — and that there
are active investigations in all the cases that have a DNA
identification match. It was beyond the scope of our project to
follow the cases through into investigation and prosecution.
But the [Wayne County] prosecutor has stated publicly her
commitment to ensuring that all of the cases are investigated,
and that all of the cases that are still eligible for prosecution will
be reviewed for prosecution, and that as many cases as can go
forward will go forward. It’s a very long-term project. There are
thousands of cases.
What about new sexual assault kits
that come in? Has the procedure
for dealing with them changed in
Yes. Now, all rape kits in which a victim
signs a release for the kit to be tested are
automatically submitted for testing. That
was a practice that was begun in Detroit
in the middle of our research, when it
became clear how useful these kits could
be to the investigation, the prosecution
and the victim’s healing. And in June 2014,
Michigan passed a law that requires all kits
in the state, in which a victim has signed a
release for testing, to be submitted for testing.
Have other cities discovered similar untested
Yes. I’ve done trainings in several other cities that have large
numbers of untested kits: Houston, Cleveland and Memphis
are three notable examples. I’m working with a team at RTI
International, as well as other colleagues around the country,
to provide training and technical assistance to communities
that were recently funded under a Bureau of Justice Assistance
grants program on this issue. That’s presented an opportunity
for us to take some lessons learned from Detroit and share them
with other jurisdictions, and to learn from other jurisdictions
about the challenges they’re facing.
How big a problem is it? How many untested kits are
out there nationwide?
Unfortunately, one of the key sticking points right now is
that we do not have a national census. Kevin Strom and his
colleagues at RTI International did a survey of law enforcement
agencies back around 2010 that estimated that there’s up to
perhaps 200,000 untested rape kits. Since then, there have been
various investigative reporting projects trying to count them
city by city.
“This is not a regional problem and it
is not limited to large urban districts.
It is truly coast-to-coast and happens
in small, medium and large cities.”
Rebecca Campbell, PhD
Michigan State University