What happened when we tested thousands of abandoned rape kits in Detroit | Kym Worthy

Updated : Oct 23, 2019 in Articles

What happened when we tested thousands of abandoned rape kits in Detroit | Kym Worthy


In 2009, in August, my office
weathered two major scandals. The first was the arrest,
trying and conviction and subsequent incarceration
of Detroit’s very popular mayor. The second caused the Detroit
police department crime lab to be closed. I thought nothing else could go wrong. And then the phone rang. (Laughter) It was the deputy chief
of my special victim’s unit, who was breathless
on the other end of the line. He said, “Boss, you are never
going to believe what I just saw.” I had a sinking feeling
in the pit of my stomach, because I knew instinctively that Detroit was getting ready
to suffer its third major scandal, in just over one year. He told me that he had just visited what
he thought was an abandoned warehouse where the Detroit police department
was storing evidence. Inside were 11,341 abandoned, untested rape kits. Some of them went back to the 1980s. And some of them now
are over 40 years old. These kits were spilling out
of large, black garbage bags and empty oil drums. Each kit represented a victim, mostly a female, that had suffered
a violent sexual assault. Each of them voluntarily endured
an hours-long rape kit process, with the hopes that as a result of that
they would find their perpetrator. And unbeknownst
to all of them, all 11,341, those kits were never tested. I cannot even begin to describe — oh! And by the way, before I move on, in the interim of those 40 years, those perpetrators were allowed
to continue to offend with impunity. I cannot tell you or describe to you
how outraged, mad and angry I was. I myself was a victim of sexual assault, back many decades ago,
when I was in law school. I also am the mother of three girls,
a 21-year-old and nine-year-old twins. I was even more horrified to learn —
if I could be more horrified — that the oldest of those kits — one of the oldest of those kits —
belonged to an eight-year-old girl. I’m going to tell you her story,
but I’m going to call her Natasha. On January 2, 1990, Natasha was at home
and a man knocked on her door. This man was familiar
with her neighborhood and was familiar with the comings
and goings of her family, but Natasha did not know him. He told her that her grandmother,
the only mother that she had ever known, had been in a terrible accident and was laying on a couch
in his house, calling for her. Terrified that Natasha was going to lose
her grandmother, she went with him. But of course, we all know
her grandmother was not there. Once he had isolated Natasha,
who was eight years old, he began to rape her violently. He raped her with his mouth,
his fingers and his penis. And he even forced his penis
into her mouth. When he was done,
he ordered Natasha to get dressed, he got dressed himself, and he put a blindfold across her head. And walked her to a factory area
on the edge of the neighborhood. He asked her if she knew —
he removed the blindfold, and asked her if she knew
how to get home from there. And when she indicated that she did,
he let her go and he walked off. Natasha’s rape was reported immediately, and a rape kit was done. Now, the rape kit process
terrifies and traumatizes adult women. Can you imagine what it was like
for a little second-grader, who still wore pigtails
and still believed in Santa Claus, going through this exam? Natasha’s kit sat on the shelf
in that abandoned warehouse for 26 years. Pamela, 19 years old — I’ll call her Pamela,
that’s not her real name — nineteen years old,
was walking down the street after she had come
from visiting her boyfriend. She was grabbed from behind, and she felt what she thought
was a gun, in her side. She was taken to an abandoned house, to a bedroom in that house,
that was filled with trash. Every time she tried to resist, he would hit her
about the face and the head. He violently raped her
on the floor of that bedroom that was filled with garbage. When he was done, he put on his clothes, he stole her money,
and he just walked away. Pamela also reported her rape right away. She also had a rape kit done. And like Natasha’s,
her kit sat on the shelf for 15 years. Now, criminals, like people
who raped Natasha and Pamela, often leave their DNA at a crime scene. But for a rape victim,
their body is the crime scene. So many elect to go through this
hours-long rape kit process that requires every inch and orifice
of a victim’s body to be combed, swabbed and photographed. All right after a violent sexual assault. The reason that most people do this,
who have a rape kit, is because they want the forensic
scientists to study that rape kit. And hopefully come up
with a genetic profile that will help identify their perpetrator. Once forensic scientists
come up with this genetic profile, they enter it into CODIS,
hopefully have a match. CODIS is filled with DNA profiles
of people who are arrested and/or convicted
of certain prescribed offenses. If in fact a profile is made
and entered into CODIS, it can help identify a perpetrator
in the matter of minutes. CODIS stands for
Combined DNA Index System. Now, how did we get here? Detroit had no money. It cost, at that time
that these kits were found, up to 1,500 dollars per kit
to have it tested. So, you do the math
about how much that was going to cost. In addition to that, within four years of these kits
being found in 2009, Detroit would be the largest municipality
in the history of the United States to declare bankruptcy. We didn’t know what we were going to do. But not only that. As we began to study and investigate
how this possibly could have happened, we discovered there were other issues
besides just financial ones. During the course of these decades
where these kits sat in that warehouse, we discovered there had been
multiple changes of police leadership, with different priorities
and different agendas. There was woefully inadequate training
for sex crimes officers in the police department in general. They were chronically understaffed, and they had other resource issues. And there was perpetual victim blaming when these victims came
to report their crimes. That’s the rape culture. And because of this victim blaming of someone that had been
violently assaulted, some of these victim were even ridiculed into not continuing
to proceed with their case. The bottom line is,
that 11,341 rape kits sat on that shelf. I wanted transparency. I asked myself: How in the world
can we stop this from spreading? I don’t want to go through all this work
and five, 10 years down the line, figure we have the same issue. At that time, police officers
had the sole discretion about whether and when and if they were going to submit
the rape kits for testing — any rape kit in their
jurisdiction — for testing. That had to change. We had to take that discretion
away from police officers, and pass state laws to ensure that every rape kit
released by the victim to law enforcement is tested immediately. I also knew that there had to be
some kind of system to keep everybody honest and to keep
everybody accountable, put in place, where we knew where these
rape kits were, at any given time. The answer was simple. Think about all
of the hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of packages, that are moved by
a logistics company every day. They are scanned and tracked, and they know where they are,
at every bend and turn, from the time that they’re stored
in the warehouse, until the time that that package arrives
on the purchaser’s front steps. Why couldn’t we do that for rape kits? I had no desire to reinvent the wheel. So I contacted UPS. UPS, within two weeks — two weeks — of our first meeting with UPS, they had come up with a major plan where they involved
all the stakeholders — the police officers, the prosecutors,
the medical facilities, the forensic nurses, the hospitals, the lab personnel
and the victim advocates, could know where the rape kits were
at any given time. They sent a team of experts out and fanned the Detroit area,
talked to all the stakeholders and developed a plan, and studied the life of a rape kit, from the time the rape kit was collected, through to the time
that it was tested in the lab and returned to the police personnel. They also developed a web-based portal that all the stakeholders could look into
and see where any given rape kit was at any given time. UPS had the technology, UPS knew how to use that technology
to solve our problem, and we didn’t. We launched — we, we — UPS and the prosecutor’s office — (Laughter) launched this pilot program in Detroit. And we started this process
on January 28, 2015, through to May 25 of 2016. And during that period of time — remember, we’re not dealing
with the ones we found, because they’d already been stored — we’re dealing with any new kit
that came in as of January 28, 2015. And we knew where that rape kit was. For the 16 months of this project,
we didn’t lose a single rape kit. Not a single one. We knew where they all were. (Applause) This project went on
until the state of Michigan, the elected officials in state government, took notice of everything
that UPS was doing. And everything that my office was doing. And they decided that they
were going to use state funds to develop a state-wide tracking system. Not in just Detroit,
but state-wide tracking system. Hopefully, that system
will be up and running soon. But I loved working with UPS. I loved their innovation,
I loved how fast they worked, I loved their unorthodox approach to ideas
to solve an everyday, common problem, whose solution should be simple. So, after working with them I knew that even with one company, working on one issue, the progress that could be made. We’ve been at this now for nine years. And it was nine years ago that we rescued those rape kits
from the warehouse. That warehouse has since been torn down. But all of the kits
have either been tested, or are in the final stages
of being tested. We still have a lot of work to do in terms of investigation
and prosecution of those cases, but our rape kit issue,
in terms of testing, is done. As of June 28, 2018, our CODIS hits have showed us
and identified 2,600 suspects. We have identified 861 serial rapists. Just within this project. That means 861 potential defendants that have raped within the project
two or more times. And 50 to 75 of them
have raped 10 to 15 times a piece. In one city, in one state. Also, the CODIS results that we have have tentacles to crime scenes, have linkages in 40 states
in the United States. Forty of the 50 states have tentacles
to our crime testing of these rape kits. From Alaska to Florida and from Maine to the most
southern parts of California. A sea to shining sea,
string of CODIS hits. Natasha is now 36 years old. When she heard about the work
that we were doing with the rape kits, she contacted my office,
the Wayne County prosecutor’s office. Her kit was eventually tested. And it had identified Paul Warwick. In the interim, Paul Warwick
had raped two more women. One in the state of Colorado. Paul Warwick is now serving a sentence
in the Michigan Department of Corrections, in prison, of 15 to 40 years. (Applause) Pamela’s kit was also tested. And her kit led to the identification —
her CODIS hit on her kit — led to the identification
of Bernard Peterson. In the interim, Bernard Peterson
raped 10 more women. Each of those women had a rape kit done. And each of those women’s rape kits
sat on that shelf next to Pamela’s. For a varying number of years. Bernard Peterson is now serving a sentence in the Michigan Department of Corrections, concurrently — that means
at the same time — of 60 to 90 years,
and 90 years to 125 years, for the rapes that he committed. (Applause) We still have a lot of work to be done. And we desperately need
the help of the private sector. We need the help of the tech industry. To help us develop — not help us,
we want them to develop — information management systems, so we can all talk to each other and stop these perpetrators from raping and maiming
and killing with impunity. We also need help from those of you with marketing
and advertisement backgrounds. We need you, desperately we need you, to develop campaigns for our children
and other people to listen to, so we can stop the culture,
change the culture of rape victims being too afraid to come forward
because of what may happen to them. UPS was one company, as I said. They helped us with their innovation, and they revolutionized the way
that we can track rape kits. Every single aspect
of our lives is tracked. Every like, every mood, shopping history,
browsing history, reading history, our entire web history
is tracked these days. What if we could track the activities
and the comings and goings of criminals who commit crimes? Just like people track
every aspect of our lives. In 2015, the Obama White House and the US Department of Justice put the number of untested,
abandoned rape kits at 400,000, across this country. Four hundred thousand. That’s a national pandemic. We know where a lot of those kits are. Our testing showed that women were raped waiting
in their cars, waiting for friends, on their way to work,
on their way from work, at gas stations, at shopping malls. And even one of the first
cases that we did when these rape kits
were starting to be tested, was a man who came into the window and got into the bed and raped a woman
who was in bed with her two children. He raped her while he was
in bed with her two children. Every time I look at a rape victim
that comes into my office, because their case is being called or they’re being interviewed
by the prosecutor, they are being prepped for case, I look into their eyes
and I think to myself, they didn’t have to be
one of the ones that was raped. They didn’t have to be
one of those victims. And maybe they would not have been,
if these rape kits had been tested timely. How many more Pamelas are in this world? How many more Natashas are in this world? We may never know. But what I do know
is that you have the technology, you know how to use it and you can help us solve the problem
of rape kits being stockpiled. Thank you. (Applause)

100 Comments

  • Still people complain about Police Brutality ????????????????????

    American police MUST add death squads to their units now !

  • It is hard to track a rapist when we have so many out there, this could be a way of camouflage yourself controlled by people in power.

  • this is the saddest story i have ever heard on youtube….. and the number of rapes is brutal. tested or untested, these rapes show there are a lot of seriously messed up people…. i don’t know how these women ever recover or trust any man again.

  • DId she misspeak? She says "stop these perpetrator from raping and maiming and killing with impunity." @16:16 Are these rape kits from dead people? She said that it was very expensive back in the day to test the rape kits but where did the money come from to test these new rape kits? I would expect prices to test to go down but where where did the money come from, I thought Detroit was in financial trouble?

  • Excellent Talk. Amazing the help you get when you ask. Thank you UPS for making making the solution so easy that most of the country is now going to be doing it. And thank you Detroit person who found the rape kits for being honest and telling the prosecutors office so that the problem came to light. Thank you Detroit prosecutors for being transparent so that the problem came to be focused on all across the nation. Great people picking up the messy of scummy human beings.

  • How can we be so advanced in violence, and so behind in compassion?
    fem·i·nism
    /ˈfeməˌnizəm/ noun
    noun: feminism: the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.
    If women were treated equal, this would have taken priority at some point.

  • While what you did was correct, I have to wonder : Did you, Ms Prosecutor, also investigate whether in any of these rape cases, an innocent man might have been found guilty and sent to prison ?
    If you did not, then you are the equivalent of a rapist. Justice works both ways.

  • Jeff Bezos could help put a lot of people behing bars if he would help to follow those 400.000 rape kits by letting Amazon develop the software. Personally he could gift some money to the cause as he has only started the following charity by donating $33 million. https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/jeff-bezos-first-big-charitable-gift-is-diabolically-clever.html

  • I've never cried so much with a TED talk. It's ludicrous, I'm overwhelmed by the apathy and injustice. I didn't know rape was so wide spread. I'm so glad my parents moved out of the US and I was raised elsewhere. I can't even imagine what's going on on other parts of the world but we have to give victims a voice and criminals a face and a punishment in order to change the rape culture.

  • I don't get it. more than 10.000 rap kits get forgoten. And now are tested some 28 years laters. And she is proud of that. Some men rape more than 10 women ! Thoses rapes could have been avoided. The ones responsible for this kits being forgoten should be judge all the same.

  • Sounds like politicians need to delegate more money for law enforcement in Detroit. I wonder if racism has a hand in the sad inadequacy of law enforcement money in Detroit? I wouldn’t be suprised.

  • Shouldn’t those DNA testing companies like 23 & Me check their results against a crime database of rapists & murderers? Says on the commercial they own the results. Maybe wait another few years & then do it so they don’t scare too many rapists off…

  • i'm glad they got down to fixing the problem, but what does it say about the state of public institutions that they need private companies to get their public service right? isn't this the result of forty years of a drying out of public funding due to tax breaks for corporations? i know UPS is the hero of this story, but does it really deserve the credit when private industry is partially to blame for this debacle? i know this might not be a popular comment, but i think people should think about this

  • There is no Paul Warwick in the Michigan Department of Corrections…
    Changed his name?
    I found Bernard Peterson on the system, but where is Paul?

  • Detroit is a waste of time.   Its a corrupt swamp and its not the only one.   You are not at war with flesh and blood, you are in love with stains in high places.

  • I feel very sorry for all women who haven been through sexual assault.. It's crazy how sexual assaults are common in USA! Because it's very rare in my country, i think it's because an Islamic country with Muslim people.

  • The decision to test was discretionary; who decided that not testing the kit relating to an 8 year old was reasonable? Who?

  • 미국 볼수록 치안에 문제가 많은 나라다. 양극화도 심하니 풍요 속 빈곤이 아니라 고통 속 빈곤이다.

  • Best ted talk to date. Thank you ma’am and thank you for your hard work, and strong moral compass. Your an American treasure. Truly.

  • 17 million dollars. That was it. Just 17 million dollars. Just needed one police officer to speak out and let the media know. People would have donated. This is a sad story which should never have happened.

  • I wonder why you are all shocked in the comment section.

    First, it takes money to test those rape kits.

    And facilities in Detroit is not exactly well-funded…

    Hmmm…I wonder what will happen next…You tell me Mr. or Ms Sherlock.

  • Thanks to the cop who found and phoned in to the prosecutor, if it wasn't for him, those kits would be sitting abandoned still.👮

  • I am in tears. The state of those women all these years must be terrifying!! I am glad that people like Kym Worthy still exist in this world. May God Bless You for all the amazing work that you have done and will be doing in the future.

  • This woman is a hero! God bless her for looking after those who have fallen victim to such horrific people! I hope they all get they Justice they deserve! If you're a woman reading this please invest in some form of self defense like pepper spray, a taser, or a gun. You may never have to use it but please be prepared so that you will never have to fall victim to such a horrible act.

  • I was about to click away because it was making me angry that no justice was served, but im glad some them received tgeir punishment. Lets hope for more justice

  • hi . thanks for all this videos . its very useful. am follow you from arabic country and we need to add arabic language. thanks again and continued.

  • I get that you want to get the rapists. Tracking everyone is not the solution. Focus should be on why the rapes happen. Tracking all is not the solution.

  • How is it that we have had decades feminism in this country, resulting in the elimination of due process through title 9, but we are completely and utterly incapable of doing simple DNA tests? How hard is it to pass federal laws saying that EVERY RAPE KIT HAS TO BE TESTED IMMEDIATELY AND PROSECUTORS HAVE TO PROSECUTE THE DEFANDANTS … IMMEDIATELY! What is this, the United States of America or some kind of disgusting inhuman third world failed state like Somalia Or Afghanistan? This is what feminism is actually all about, endless bitching about problems, but never actually solving them, because if they did solve them they would have to shut up.

  • If this isn't proof that more government controlled things should be privatized then I don't know what it. While our public servants and big government suck money and drag their feet a private specialized corporation could almost always get the job done more efficiently, in less time and for cheeper.

  • Guys probably wouldn't be raping women if dating, getting married, or finding love in general wasn't such an impossible task for guys.

  • Потрясающая женщина, потрясающий результат и успех. Побольше таких замечательных специалистов, и всех благ таким людям.

  • So were these kits not tested because the victims decided not pursue further action and just gave up out of fear, so the police decided not to take further action out request from the victim? Or did they actually just ignore their job?

  • Not all , but a large percentage of these atrocities perpetrated on predominantly women, could be avoided through educational programs highlighting prevention and self defense training with (dare I say it) , firearms.

  • Learning of this and a strong Democratic City makes me believe that other Democratic cities all over the United States have probably the same problem and at least thousand rapist got away and repeated which tens of thousand more rapes where repeated and more crimes even murder have been repeated by these people this is nothing but a travesty again dominated by a Democrat Society all these cities like la Chicago Detroit New York and other cities held by the Democrats are devastating the population but still they vote for them they still vote for people who are take advantage of women whatever happened to Me 2 movement you're not going to get this in a far-right city this would be called outrageous and wouldn't be stand for you only get this in a democratic held City or state women need to take back the states held by democrats and put it into the hands of a progressive or even a far-right which you'll be a lot more safer in where they're all have more oversight not dirty politics that the Democrats always like to hide and Passover stand up Democrats

  • Can't believe that a country like the US that is so hard on petty crime doesn't have the resources to follow up on rapes. Definately a culturally and economically undeveloped nation.

  • Imagine how many more victims like these could have been helped or prevented if police didn't have to chase countless drug dealers, users, and addicts fighting the endless war on drugs. Prohibition didn't work for alcohol, so why think it would work for other drugs?

    Recently read the book Drug War Addiction by Sheriff Bill Masters, so great and points out how police priorities are all messed up because there's more money and higher arrest numbers going after drugs than the lengthy work of trying to solve a homicide, kidnapping, missing person, rape, fraud, etc. As he puts it, police agencies get "addicted" to the funding that comes from the drug war.

    Sheriff Masters also rightly asks, “Why the heck would we have any police going after drugs when there's a killer, kidnapper, or rapist on the loose?”

    And Judge James Gray put's it best, “Every dollar spent on drug dealers is a dollar that cannot be spend on other criminals. Getting tough on drugs inevitably translates into getting soft on all other offenses.”

  • Notice how the army of people commenting "This talk isn't about science! TED is so biased a shoving their values down our throat! BOOOO!" aren't present when it's an issue everyone agrees on. I guess they only care about that standard of disqualification when it's something that triggers them.

  • I cannot begin to tell you how thankful we all are for all the incredible work you and the team are doing. We need more people like you Kim.

  • Everyone should watch the HBO documentary I’m glad to see that she is taking more steps forward and changing the policies and procedures of the police department. Well done.

  • Okay but why did she have to explain the rape…tbh I don't care about the details of the rape, no one wants to know that

  • Isn't this the portly woman whose office wrongly convicted an innocent teenager of 4 murders? Then when he was exonerated, she refused to acknowledge their mistake or apologize. She is a pompous blow hard.

  • The rape kits in anandonded whearhouse not heated in winter not cooled in summer .. How use full would them kits be and not housed in secure room so then them kits could of been contaminated. Tampered with . detroitt run by demacrats for decads they failed detroit residens

  • This racist country puts a majority of its resources towards harassing and arresting black people for petty crimes like marijuana possession but let these sick perverted white boys get away with almost anything. These nerds are the REAL "super predators". Let's declare war on them!!!

  • 17:21 In 2015, The Obama White House and the US Department of Justice put the number of UNTESTED abandoned rape kits at 400,000 across this country ~ that's a national pandemic….. Anyone reading this has got to know that this is happening worldwide…. This is a global disgrace… The entire blame the victim culture of not only rape victims, but victims of domestic violence has got to change…. I get that these crimes happen to men as well, but rapes are primarily perpetrated against women and children…. Absolutely life destroying in many cases, you're never the same person after something like this happens to you…. These are our Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, Sons, Grandmothers, cousins, friends…. loved ones…. What a cruel blow to these victims to find that their rape kit was never tested, yet their rapist could have caught with that evidence…. I commend this lady Kym Worthy, the forensic investigators and UPS for their humanitarianism……..

  • My rape kit came with the following.
    2, roles duct tape
    1 bag zip ties
    1 bottle chloroform with rag
    1 gag ball
    And last but not least a bottle of Frank's hot sauce.

  • The UPS link info system needs to be world wide. Absolutely international and only THEN would that kick in the impunity of abuse that is so prevalent in the world. And it would impact so much the numbers of victims.

  • And I tought criminal justice was phossilified, obsolete and slow in Europe… (we are also embarrased by blaming the victim situations and officers forcing them to walk away from police stations without repporting). Some states of US now look like the African countries mine helps in sexual violence issues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *