Rock Center – Wayne County, Mich., Prosecutor Kym Worthy has seen her share of grisly crime, but even she was shocked by a discovery in 2009 at a former police storage warehouse. There, stacks of dusty boxes were found on the shelves of the warehouse. The boxes contained thousands of untested rape kits, some decades old.
“What we were potentially looking at, at that time, was over 10,000 rape kits, representing over 10,000 cases where women had reported, whose lives and what had happened to them was sitting on a shelf and nobody cared. I was shocked, and I think I was kind of stunned — and not too much stuns me,” Worthy told Kate Snow in an interview airing Friday at 10 p.m. ET/9 CT on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams.
Worthy and her team would ultimately discover 11,303 untested kits. Rape kits are what hospitals use to collect DNA evidence from a victim in hopes that police can test it and identify a rapist. Victims have to undergo a thorough exam that can take hours. The DNA evidence is often the most important evidence used to convict in a rape case.
“To know that we had all of these potential victims sitting out there, all of them, mostly women, and nothing had been done, was just truly appalling,” Worthy said.
She is spearheading the fight to correct the injustice. Worthy said that what’s happening in her city is happening across the country. From Chicago to Los Angeles to Houston, cities are grappling with thousands of untested rape kits. Through a national grant, Worthy is attempting to set a protocol for how other states tackle backlogged rape kits.
The daughter of a West Point graduate, Worthy says she has always felt a sense of justice and morality. As a lawyer, she’s fearlessly sought justice, taking on high-profile cases including the corruption case against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. But perhaps her own traumatic experience has contributed to her drive. Worthy says that she was sexually assaulted while in law school but did not report her case.
“This may sound strange, but I think what happened to me in law school happened for a reason and kind of led me into what I’m doing now. I always felt that way. And I always felt that that was a part of what made me a very good prosecutor, and certainly that is part of everything that I do. But it wasn’t the driving force,” she said.
Worthy said her experience allows her to better identify with the women whose cases were left untouched for years, but ultimately her time as a prosecutor during Detroit’s tumultuous last decade sparked her determination. Over the past decade, Detroit has dealt with a high crime rate, budget woes and corruption in both the police force and former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s office.
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