Last week, the Michigan legislature recommended a $37.5 billion budget for the state that included $3 million allocated towards prosecuting sexual assault cases from unprocessed rape kits. Similarly, the state government recently put time limits on the retrieval and processing of rape kits. While it’s commendable that the legislature is taking several steps towards the protection of sexual assault survivors, the fact that several thousand rape kits are still unprocessed five years after being found is deplorable. The state — and the University — must work harder to ensure sexual assault survivors receive justice.
In 2009, Michigan State Police were informed of 11,000 unprocessed sexual assault kits in an abandoned Detroit Police Department crime lab. Since their discovery, about 2,000 kits have been processed with another 8,000 to be tested “soon.”
While it’s admirable that the legislation allocated funds to both speed up the processing of rape kits and prosecute offenders, still having the majority of abandoned kits unprocessed — some kits dating back to the 1980s — is a disgusting failure by the state government. Given the large percentage of rape cases that go unreported, leaving over 10,000 kits unprocessed only further affirms the lack of sexual assault convictions. Not only does this emotionally traumatize survivors, but it allows serial rapists — like the 100 already identified from 1,600 rape kits — to continue their patterns of sexual assault. Given the vast number of cases in an abandoned storage facility, the state government must remain vigilant of similar potential oversights at other locations.
The volume of unprocessed rape kits is unacceptable, yet efforts made by politicians demonstrate initiative to prevent this injustice from ever occurring again. The state legislature passed a bill that will limit rape kit retrieval and testing to further support survivors. Law enforcement officials must retrieve the kits within 14 days of receiving notice from health department agencies. The law enforcement agency must then submit any sexual assault evidence for lab analysis within 14 days of possession. Then, the evidence must be processed within 90 days by the labs. Enforcing this new protocol will guarantee future survivors the safety of knowing their efforts to prosecute are pursued with due promptness.
Given new legislation to more effectively prosecute rape cases and increased sexual assault awareness surrounding recent campus events, it’s imperative that we educate women about rape kits. Sexual assault cases are oftentimes difficult to process given the potential for no evidence. A rape kit can solve this difficulty by providing survivors the ability to store evidence that can then be used to prosecute aggressors. Through educating and providing resources to women, genuine strides can be made to end the consistency of sexual assaulters going unpunished.