Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

March 11, 2014

Actress Hargitay backs Detroit rape kit project

Actress Hargitay backs Detroit rape kit project

DETROIT — Actress Mariska Hargitay, who portrays a police detective on television, on Monday pledged her support for a real-life crime-fighting effort: quicker testing for a backlog of thousands of rape kits in the Detroit area and across Michigan.

Hargitay, a star of NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” joined Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy in announcing legislation at the state level aimed at stopping serial rapists by better identifying and arresting suspects in sexual assault cases through the testing.

For the past few years, Worthy’s office has been slowly wading through sexual assault kits recovered in 2009 from a Detroit police storage facility. They contain DNA and other evidence from rape cases, but a majority of the 11,000 kits never were tested in a lab.

Testing can bring justice to rape victims, said Hargitay, founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which works with victims of sexual abuse, child abuse and domestic violence.

The organization has taken on the rape kit backlog issue because the lack of prompt testing “is the clearest and most shocking demonstration of how we regard these crimes in our country,” she said.

“Every day in the United States women and men take the courageous step of reporting their rape to the police,” Hargitay said. “And because of what those individuals have suffered, their bodies are crime scenes. They’re living, breathing, feeling crime scenes from which doctors and nurses collect evidence in a sexual assault collection kit.”

The legislation — which Worthy described during a press briefing as a collaboration between police, prosecutors, health care organizations and victims’ groups — would provide processes and timelines for rape kit pickup and testing. It also would allow for greater input from victims and seeks to put in place a mechanism to track each kit.

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