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.
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 —
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.
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.
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.
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.