Documentary: Wayne County Ends Rape Kit Backlog

Mariska Hargitay and others behind the I am Evidence documentary on stage at a film festival in 2017.
Image: Flickr

The HBO documentary I am Evidence produced by Mariska Hargitay spotlights the efforts of Wayne County to end the Detroit region’s rape kit backlog.

According to the Detroit Free Press reporting from a recent screening of the HBO documentary I am Evidence, funding from groups like the Michigan Women’s Foundation has enabled Wayne County, Michigan, to finish processing more than 11,300 untested rape kits found in a Detroit Police storage building in 2009.

Those kits have largely all been sent for testing; about 600 remain to be processed. With the backlog addressed, so far:

Mariska Hargitay, the film’s producer and the star of the television’s Law & Order SVU, credited Detroit for making strides with solving its backlog. The city plays a central role in the documentary, along with the city of Cincinnati and Los Angeles County.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy is depicted as the driving force behind this notable achievement. The Free Press led a panel discussion including Worthy, Hargitay and documentary directors, Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir after the screening. Worthy said Detroit’s efforts sends a message of determination to other cities:

Even if you have no money, no resources, no support, this can still be done. It’s just force of will … Ultimately, you cannot stop if you want to do what’s right,” said Worthy.

The Accountability Project

It is currently unknown if rape kit backlog exists in 13 states, but The Accountability Project by Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation has posted an interactive map of its research featuring the numbers of untested rape kits uncovered in all other U.S. states, and some featured cities.

The website, EndtheBacklog.org, includes snapshots of every state that list related laws, tracking systems and funding details.

Michigan does not require law enforcement agencies to count rape kits, but enacted a commission in 2014 for a statewide tracking system not yet implemented. The state also pledged $4 million in 2013 to test kits with additional funding for prosecution, and passed new laws about collecting and processing kits. Michigan law enforcement agencies must collect rape kits from the hospital within 14 days, and send kits for testing within 14 days of taking possession. Labs must analyze rape kits within 90 days, “if sufficient resources are available.”

While the project indicates that there is more unknown than known about rape kit backlog, two states, Kentucky and Ohio, do not have any backlog of untested rape kits.

Ohio is one of a handful of states that requires mandatory testing of rape kits. In 2011, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine requested all law enforcement agencies clear their backlogs.

While Kentucky does not currently require mandatory testing by law enforcement agencies, the state does grant victims legal rights to know the status of their kits. In 2015, Kentucky passed legislation requiring a one-time statewide audit of untested rape kits. At the time, at least 3,090 untested rape kits existed across the state — 1,231 at the Kentucky State Police laboratory and the rest in 87 law enforcement agencies.

Some states, like Georgia with its once 10,000-kit backlog, are reportedly making progress. According to the Associated Press, the state has cut its backlog by two-thirds and is on track to complete all testing by January 2019.

We’re in this position because the system failed, but I am encouraged we’ve taken action to fix it and we’re making progress. But it never should have happened in the first place,” said state Rep. Scott Holcomb, Atlanta, a sponsor of 2016 legislation requiring all law enforcement agencies to send stored rape kits to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Other states like Indiana are still struggling to get a handle on their backlog numbers, according to the CBS affiliate in Indianapolis.

I am Evidence revealed that law enforcement agencies not only struggle with the number of rape kits to process, but also ways to prioritize those in backlog.

Learn about a new rape kit backlog tool developed with federal grant funding:

Free Online Toolkit Can Help Address Rape Kit Backlog

Explore resources for public health and public safety officials in the EfficientGov Sexual Assault Prevention guide:

Sexual Assault Prevention

About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of EfficientGov.com and Senior Editor at Praetorian Digital. She is based in Massachusetts.