Rapists are one group of criminals that are most likely to repeatedly commit the same crime. In recent years, the United States has struggled to find and stop these monsters before they harm more people. Though rape kits are sometimes a useful tool for law enforcement officials, they often are not properly processed for years. Detroit is a city that has trouble getting enough employees and equipment to test their backlog of rape kits.
Over 11,000 rape kits that have not been tested were discovered in an old warehouse in Detroit. Some of the discovered rape kits were from over 25 years ago. When they were finally processed, the kits revealed the identities of about 100 rapists who had repeatedly raped people. Some of the people revealed during the testing had sexually assulted people in other areas of the United States since the rape kits had first been created. This discoveryrevealed a huge issue in the criminal justice system: If the rape kits had been tested when they were first made, many serial rapists could have been stopped before they went on to harm other people. The Wayne County Prosecutor, Kym Worthy, had to push to even get the abandoned rape kits tested in the first place, because no one wanted to bother dealing with the old rape kits.
The case of serial rapist Deshawn Starks highlights the importance of promptly testing rape kits: When Starks first raped a woman in 2003, the rape kit from the crime was never tested, and it ended up in the abandoned warehouse with many others. Without this valuable evidence, Starks was not convicted of any crime. He went on to rape another woman in the same year and two friends in 2013. If there had been legislation in place to ensure that the kit was tested right after the crime, other women could have been spared the horrific ordeal.
Mariska Hargitay, an actress who plays Detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU, has been working with Worthy to fight this issue. This team is encouraging state lawmakers to create laws which will ensure that rape kits are tested in a timely manner. They have started the Detroit Rape Kit Project in order to work on catching criminals before they can hurt more people. There are many reasons for why rape kits have been ignored so much in Detroit. The city does not have enough manpower to test all of the kits they receive, and without any guidelines for rape kit testing, busy people forget or ignore this important evidence.
So far, only 1,600 out of the 11,000 rape kits have been tested, and many more serial rapists may still be free today. Hopefully, the efforts of Hargitay, Worthy, and many other dedicated people can help to change Michigan’s laws and catch serial rapists before they can harm more people.