Detroit

Detroit's Prosecutor Looks to Deal with Thousands of Neglected Rape Case

Rape kits abandoned in a warehouse

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Detroit's reputation precedes it: its economic decline and apparent decay regarded as a warning sign for modern civilisation. But one Motor City native isn't buying this narrative. "Detroit is a wonderful place," enthuses Kym Worthy. "Yes, it's half the size it once was, and yes it has had its share of crime, but you visit downtown, midtown, many of the neighbourhoods in the city, and you would never believe that it's the city you've heard about on the news," says the 56-year-old.

It takes an extraordinary woman to be this upbeat given the circumstances she is describing, but extraordinary is exactly what Worthy is. For the past decade, Worthy has been prosecutor of Wayne County, the largest county in Detroit, making her the chief law enforcement officer for the city. As a lawyer she has built a strong reputation for tenacity, not least in 1998 when she ambitiously – and successfully – pursued Detroit's then mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on corruption charges. As the first African-American woman to become prosecutor of Detroit, Worthy knows a thing or two about beating the odds, a trait she possibly inherited from her army officer father, the first African-American to graduate from West Point military academy in the 1950s.

Not for nothing did Essence magazine describe her as the "toughest woman in Detroit", a moniker which came in particularly handy one afternoon in August 2009, when Worthy's staff made a startling discovery.

"I was sitting in my office one day when assistant prosecutor Rob Spader came in and told me he had been doing an inventory of Detroit police department evidence," she explains during a rare break in her schedule. "There was this warehouse of old evidence that none of us knew about. And that's where he found the rape kits."