DETROIT (WXYZ) - "I was in shock. I was outraged and I just assumed kits were being tested," said actress Mariska Hargitay about the thousands of rape kits in Detroit and across the country that have been left sitting in storage without being processed, allowing rapists to remain free to attack again. And they often do.
Hargitay joined Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to announce legislation that will soon be introduced to state lawmakers that is aimed at setting guidelines and deadlines for rape kits tests to be processed.
"Testing rape kits is vital for keeping rapists off the street," said Hargitay during Monday's press conference.
Over 11,000 sexual assault kits, some dating back to the 1980's, were found abandoned in a Detroit Police storage facility back in 2009.
Not long after the rape kits were discovered, Worthy pushed to start the processing with Michigan State Police.
So far, 1,600 rape kits have been processed, resulting in the identification of about 100 serial rapists and ten convicted rapists, according to Worthy.
Worthy told reporters that perpetrators have moved on from Michigan to commit similar crimes in 23 other states.
"It was mind blowing to me," said Hargitay that so many rape kits have gone unprocessed. "My head exploded.. We have the means to do it and DNA equals justice."
Hargitay, best known for her role as Sergeant Olivia Benson on the television drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, has also become an advocate for real life victims of sex crimes. She founded the Joyful Heart Foundation that works to "heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse."
Nationally, an estimated 400,000 rape kits have gone unprocessed, allowing rapists to remain free and their victims to wonder if they will ever see justice.
"These rape kits in Michigan are over 25 years old," said Worthy. "Want to make sure we deal with the victims mercifully, honestly and genuinely."
Fourteen prosecutions have resulted from what is being called the "Detroit Rape Kit Project", including the case of DeShawn Starks, 32.
On February 19, 2003, Starks pretended to be having stomach pains as he approached a woman who was returning to her home in Detroit, according to prosecutors. Starks pulled out a gun, robbed the woman, then drove her to a wooded area where he raped her. The woman's unprocessed rape kit remained in storage for ten years until Worthy's office launched their investigations into the abandoned rape kits. DNA linked Starks to that case.
Prosecutors says Starks went on to rape another woman in 2003. That rape kit was also placed in storage and left unprocessed for ten years.
On November 19, 2013, investigators say Starks struck again, raping two friends as they were walking home from a family gathering.
Starks was just sentenced to 45 to 90 years in prison.