Kym Worthy and the fight to investigate Detroit’s 11,000 forgotten rapes | The Guardian
Evidence relating to thousands of rape cases has been neglected for years in the US. Now ‘the toughest woman in Detroit’ is determined to do something about it
By Rosie Swash
Detroit’s reputation precedes it: its economic decline and apparent decay regarded as a warning sign for modern civilisation. But one Motor City native isn’t buying this narrative. “Detroit is a wonderful place,” enthuses Kym Worthy. “Yes, it’s half the size it once was, and yes it has had its share of crime, but you visit downtown, midtown, many of the neighbourhoods in the city, and you would never believe that it’s the city you’ve heard about on the news,” says the 56-year-old.
It takes an extraordinary woman to be this upbeat given the circumstances she is describing, but extraordinary is exactly what Worthy is. For the past decade, Worthy has been prosecutor of Wayne County, Detroit, making her the chief law enforcement officer for the county’s largest city. As a lawyer she has built a strong reputation for tenacity, not least in 2009 when she ambitiously – and successfully – pursued Detroit’s then mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on corruption charges. As the first African-American woman to become prosecutor of Detroit, Worthy knows a thing or two about beating the odds, a trait she possibly inherited from her army officer father, the first African-American to graduate from West Point military academy in the 1950s.
Not for nothing did Essence magazine describe her as the "toughest woman in Detroit", a moniker which sprung in part from her actions one afternoon in August 2009, when Worthy’s staff made a startling discovery.
"I was sitting in my office one day when assistant prosecutor Rob Spada came in and told me he had been doing an inventory of Detroit police department evidence," she explains during a rare break in her schedule. "There was this warehouse of old evidence that none of us knew about. And that’s where he found the rape kits."
A rape kit is a sexual assault kit used to take and preserve forensic evidence through DNA swabs following an allegation of rape. Spada had stumbled across approximately 11,000 of these kits lying in random order, uncatalogued, unattended and uninvestigated.
Worthy’s initial reaction was one of disgust and she immediately contacted the then police chief. She faced a lack of interest “until a local reporter picked it up, and then the whole thing blew up”.
(read the rest here)
This month, they will reach the end of their funding and are looking to private donors to help finish the backlog left behind.
Kym Worthy was recently interviewed on CBC Q radio show, she’s first on the recording. She talks about the project, how it all started. Listen here via CBC Radio 1.