2017 Recipient Distinguished Partnership Award for Community-Engaged Research

The Detroit Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Action Research Project 

Rebecca Campbell, College of Social Science
Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office
Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board
Michigan State Police
Wayne County SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners)
In August 2009, approximately 11,000 sexual assault kits (SAKs) were found in a police property storage facility in Detroit, Michigan. An SAK (also termed a “rape kit”) contains biological evidence, collected from the victim’s body after the assault, which can be analyzed for DNA. However, the vast majority of the Detroit SAKs had never been submitted for forensic DNA testing—they had been stored and ignored for decades.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office demanded action and reform. Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Campbell, together with partners from the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police, and Wayne County SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners), received a federal grant from the National Institute of Justice to research this problem. The grant was one of two awarded nationally to develop a best-practice model for untested rape kits.
The partners worked together for five years to understand why so many rape kits had not been tested. They developed comprehensive testing plans to ensure that all rape kits were tested for DNA and created trauma-informed support programs for survivors as their cases were reopened for investigation and prosecution. The strategies and solutions developed in this project have been disseminated nationally to help other communities that have large numbers of untested rape kits and to prevent this problem from happening in other jurisdictions.
This partnership is also the recipient of MSU’s 2017 Community Engagement Scholarship Award.