EAST LANSING, Mich. – A Michigan State University investigation into the shocking 2009 discovery of more than 11,000 untested rape kits is revealing a culture of indifference, meager resources, and in some cases outright scorn for the victims of rape.
Rape kits of raw DNA evidence sat untested for up to 30 years in a Detroit storage facility. The investigation, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, found "cutting corners" became the norm as law enforcement agencies weathered a budget and staffing cuts over a number of years.
Interviews with stakeholders from those agencies and an audit of actual police reports found:
-- Law enforcement personnel expressed negative, victim-blaming beliefs about sexual assault victims.
-- Rape victims were assumed to be prostitutes and therefore at fault.
-- Adolescent victims were assumed to be lying.
-- Victims assaulted by friends or acquaintances were easily dismissed as "got what they got" because they made the choice to associate with the assailant.
Investigators found case after case where the assault was labeled "a deal gone bad" or dismissed as "not really a rape."
It was this high level of indifference and disregard for victims which led police to view analysis of the rape kits as unnecessary.
The Michigan Attorney General's Office provided $4 million to test as many remaining Detroit rape kits.
Of the 1,595 kits tested, 785 yielded samples worthy of entering into the national DNA crime database. Of those, 455 were found to be already part of the database, evidence of prior or subsequent crimes and 127 samples (8 percent) were connected to known serial rape perpetrators.
Victims advocates say not only would this have given closure and support to victims -- and conviction of the suspects -- but the DNA entered into the system could have helped in the closure of other crimes, including homicides.
Investigators believe Detroit project can serve as model
While the report is damning, it is also encouraging. Investigators are pleased with the progress of reforms, saying the Detroit project can serve as a model for several other cities dealing with the embarrassment of unprocessed rape kits.
Here are some reforms already in place:
-- Rape kit processing is now mandatory under state law.
-- A new tracking system for rape kits has been developed by Wayne County.
-- Victim-centered training has been developed for practitioners who handle rape cases including police, prosecutors, nurses and advocates.
"The Detroit project shows how bringing together practitioners from all disciplines -- law enforcement, prosecution, forensic sciences, nursing and victim advocacy -- can be successful in solving complex social problems," said lead investigator Rebecca Campbell, a psychology professor at Michigan State University.
Detroit police Chief James Craig said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon that his department now has a team of investigators dedicated to the rape kit cases.
"We fully support the prosecutor's work on rape kit testing," Craig said in a statement. "We now have a team of investigators dedicating 100 percent of their time on the rape kit cases and working side by side with the Prosecutor's Office. While untested rape kits are a growing problem throughout the U.S., we hope that Detroit is becoming the example of how commitment and collaboration can bring justice and healing for victims."