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Detroit rape kit testing model could help other cities

rape kits in the foreground and two women blurred in the background
G.L. Kohuth
Michigan State University
Rebecca Campbell, professor of psychology, and Giannina Fehler-Cabral, graduate research assistant, are looking into why more than 10,000 rape kits in Detroit went untested.

A new report outlines ways big-city police departments can avoid massive backlogs of untested sexual assault kits.

The project was launched after more than 11,000 unprocessed rape kits were found abandoned in a Detroit Police Department storage facility in 2009.

Rebecca Campbell is a Michigan State University researcher who led the project’s investigative team.  

She and her team created a "road map" for better handling rape kits.

"What we did is figure out all the different decisions and choice points a community is going to have to wrestle with when they have large numbers of untested kits," Campbell said.

That includes figuring out why the kits weren't tested in the first place.

In Detroit, a lack of police staffing and resources led to kits being left untested, but Campbell said police attitudes toward victims also played a role.

"A lot of those decisions were being made based on stereotypes and victim-blaming assumptions about whether the victim was telling the truth or not," she said. 

All 11,304 of Detroit's backlogged rape kits have now been tested after the state allocated $4 million to send them to private DNA testing labs.

Michigan law now requires all rape kits released to law enforcement be submitted for testing.

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