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New sexual assault kit tracker would let victims “be their own best advocate”

G.L. Kohuth
Michigan State University
Rebecca Campbell, professor of psychology, and Giannina Fehler-Cabral, graduate research assistant, are looking into why more than 10,000 rape kits in Detroit went untested.

Michigan may start tracking its sexual assault evidence kits. An amendment to the state’s budget would pay for the required software and training.

The kits contain swabs and other evidence gathered from a victim of sexual assault. Software would track the kit as it moves from hospital to police department to laboratory. It also sends out alerts if a kit has been in one location too long. 

“It’s gonna open up an opportunity for checks and balances and that’s absolutely what we need for these,” said Representative Laura Cox, R-Livonia. “These are very, very important kits.”

The program is meant to prevent a backlog of evidence kits.

Almost a decade ago, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office discovered more than 10,000 untested kits. Wayne and other counties have spent the last few years trying to reduce their backlogs. Three years ago the state passed a law that requires all evidence kits be tested quickly.

Several key stake holders would be able to track the kits – including victims.

Jeffrey Nye is with the Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division. He said survivors should be able to keep track of where their kit is. Right now, that’s not an option.

“There’s no ability for the victim or the survivor to be their own best advocate to monitor that process along the way,” he said.

Debi Cain is the executive director for a state board on domestic and sexual violence. She said the tracking would empower victims.

It gives them control of their lives in a time that all control has been taken away,” she said. “Your world has been rocked by that.”

The measure was voted out of a committee Wednesday. The next step is a vote in the state House.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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