If you’ve been keeping up to date on local headlines, I’m sure you’ve heard something about the city crime lab closing its doors. In brief, the Detroit Police Department crime laboratory was shut down in 2008 when a state audit discovered a 10% error in firearms testing. It was recently announced that the crime lab will be taken over by the state of Michigan and reopened, possibly to be relocated in the MGM Grand casino.
What hasn’t been in the news either lately or over the past two years is that the crime lab’s fatal audit also revealed a backlog of 10,500 unanalyzed rape kits, dating back to the early 1990s. While this enormous archive of bodily evidence has remained stagnant and ignored, 10,500 victims of sexual assault continue to wonder inside of their Detroit homes.
Though the existence of the rape kits was unveiled nearly two years ago, I myself only just now became aware of them. In the short time in which I have been privy to this information, I have been preoccupied with how to make sense of this catastrophic situation. What does the hidden existence of these rape kits mean to the rest of us? To the near-1,000,000 individuals who reside in the city of Detroit, of which over 600,000 are female? Or to the 4,000,000 Metro Detroiters who regularly head to the city for sporting events, concerts, festivals, education, and any other engagements that nurse economy and strengthens community? Where does Detroit stand in relation to sex and sexual politics?
In the new millennium, the city of Detroit has become increasingly sexualized. In 2002, exotic dancer Tamara “Strawberry” Greene was allegedly attacked by x-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s wife, Carlita, at the infamous Manoogian Mansion party. A year later, Greene was killed by multiple gunshots from the same variety pistol that is issued by the Detroit Police Department. This story was resurrected in the text-messaging sex scandal between Kilpatrick and chief of staff Christine Beatty. This year the city of Detroit initiated new zoning laws for strip clubs as well as outlawed lap dances and VIP rooms. Grosse Pointe South High School hockey coach Robert Bopp was sentenced to 22 years in prison for producing kiddie porn and Detroit Red Wings executive Matthew Brown resigned after he was charged with possession child pornography. Most recently, President of Detroit Public Schools Otis Mathis resigned after allegations that he unzipped his pants and fondling himself during a meeting with DPS superintendent, Teresa Gueyser. Just a few days ago, Detroit “gentleman’s club” All Stars was ordered to shut their doors for one year for employing a fourteen-year-old girl as a topless dancer. Are these headlines representative of the sex in our city?
Certainly they are not encompassing of Detroit’s entire sexual culture. This June, the annual Motor City Pride Fest was once again a success. After a decade of popularity as a Detroit Valentine’s Day tradition, The Dirty Show hit the road this summer, taking its collection of international erotic art to Chicago and Cleveland. The Detroit Erotic Arts Collaborative continues to provide a safe, private environment for artists and models to explore eroticism in their work. After receiving Oprah’s Angel Network Use Your Life Award in 2002, Alternatives for Girls continues to expand their community services providing assistance to young women at risk for unwanted pregnancy, STDs, and careers in commercial sex. And on the web, Erin Rose and Sean O’Brien–co-founders of Positive Detroit–recently launched Pick MI Date, a social media-slanted match-making game show for local lovers-in-waiting. But are these achievements indicative of a recognizable standpoint on Detroit’s sexual politics or culture? As cultural forces–individually or together–do they pronounce Detroit’s sexual identity? Does Detroit even have a sexual identity?
My answer to these questions is “no.” Any political consciousness or community alignment grounded in sexuality would not allow 10,500 rape kits to be kept hidden for twenty years. These handling of these rape kits represents the local government’s blatant disregard for our sexual health. It also represents Detroit’s dire need to forge a sexual identity.
Detroit has never been a sexual city. Nor has it ever been known as a hub for women’s rights, feminist politics, or otherwise female-friendly movements. And perhaps with the exception of being mother to the modern retail experience (the department store and the strip mall), neither has Detroit ever been associated with pleasure. But that doesn’t mean it has to stay this way. How can we cultivate a sex-positive Detroit?