University supporters raise money to test backlogged rape kits

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - 9:59pm

Though the Michigan football team lost to Michigan State University on the field Saturday, Team Michigan defeated Team MSU in a face-off raising money to test untested rape kits in Detroit.

Five years ago, more than 11,000 untested rape kits were found in a police warehouse in Detroit. Though most of these kits have now been sent out for testing, a campaign called the African American 490 Challenge has begun to raise money for the roughly 1,000 remaining untested kits. For Oct. 12 to Oct. 17, teams of professionals who support the University and MSU competed to fundraise for the AA490 Challenge.

By Sunday, Team Michigan raised $14,931, topping Team MSU’s $11,181. Added to $4,465.50 that came in from neutral donors, the face-off raised a total of $30,577.50 from more than 380 donors, surpassing the campaign’s goal of $20,000.

Rape kits consist of materials — including small plastic bags and microscopes — that can be used to collect forensic evidence of rape, such as clothing fibers, hair or body fluids. Legally, the kits can be used to identify those responsible for rape or exonerate the wrongfully accused. However, the rape kits have to be tested — or sent to a lab for forensic analysis — to be useful in court. It is estimated that more than 70,000 rape kits remain untested in the United States. According to USA TODAY, one reason rape kits may remain untested is because of the expensive cost for police to send the kits out for analysis.

In 2009, 11,341 untested rape kits were found in a police storage facility in Wayne County. The kits were collected when the crimes were reported, but never analyzed. In response, Enough Sexual Assault in Detroit — a collaboration among Michigan Women’s Foundation, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and the Detroit Crime Commission — formed to raise money to test the kits and investigate the crimes associated with them. In early September, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who founded Enough SAID, announced 10,000 of these kits had been tested, with 1,341 remaining untested. The effort resulted in 21 convictions, 106 active cases and 1,350 cases to be investigated.  

Enough SAID launched the AA490 Challenge in early October as an 18-month-long project to raise money for the 1,341 untested rape kits. The initiative was named for the $490 the campaign says it costs to test each kit. The campaign’s goal is to raise at least $657,090 — the minimum amount of money needed to test every kit. More money will be necessary to investigate the crimes and prosecute the suspects associated with the results.

Worthy, a University alum, represented Team Michigan. MSU alum and co-host of the ESPN show “His & Hers” Jemele Hill represented Team MSU. Other people on Team Michigan included University Regents Shauna Ryder Diggs (D–Grosse Pointe) and Denise Ilitch  (D–Bingham Farms), Megan Davis, University of Michigan Black Alumni president and Darci McConnell, president and CEO of McConnell Communications, Inc.

McConnell said the donation face-off was a success.

“The short version is that (it) has been very successful,” McConnell said. “We’ve raised $15,000 from just the rivalry alone.”

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Worthy said the real winners of this face-off are the women whose rape kits will be tested.

“While it always feels good to trump MSU, it really is great that both schools could come together because the real winners will be those who get justice as a result of this effort,” Worthy said.

Peg Tallet, chief community engagement officer for the Michigan Women’s Foundation, said the campaign could also shine light on sexual assault and rape on college campuses specifically.

“Enormous amount of rape occurs on or around college campuses,” Tallet said. “We hope that there will be a light shined on this issue and there will be an opportunity to educate and change attitudes on college campuses.”