The RAPE/DETROIT Project: Spread the Word and Meet Me at the Burton

detroit-rape-kit-backlog

When the state of Michigan closed the Detroit crime lab in 2008, more than 10,000 rape kits were discovered in the laboratory basement, none of which had been submitted for analysis. The rape kits date from 1993 to 2006, and it is estimated that there are still thousands more at large in Wayne County. This means that 10,000 Detroit-bred sexual assault victims submitted their bodies and their trust in the local government and have been waiting for up to eighteen years for medical-legal evidence regarding whether sexual contact occurred, the nature and conditions of the assault, and information that may lead to identifying the perpetrator.

Detroit representatives who attended the National Eliminating the Rape Kit Backlog Roundtable in Washington DC in May 2010 believe that the local media has sufficiently informed the public about the so-called epidemic. Yet, since I became aware of the issue last May, I have come across only one other person who had prior knowledge of the problem.

At its very essence, this backlog is an issue of information–evidence and knowledge. It begs many questions regarding politics at a local, state and national level, women’s health and safety, how government funds are and should be delegated, the effectiveness of rape kits as a means to justice for victims of sexual assault, and so on. In my own research I have not found much consensus between the available resources. As a public we are uninformed and misinformed, and those responsible for informing us (governmental bodies, journalists) are able to slack because as a public, we are unaware. Awareness is a necessary precondition for action. Knowledge is the critical factor that connects the two.

The RAPE/DETROIT Project

Beginning today–Friday, November 12–small donation repositories will be placed at The Burton Theatre as an effort to bring awareness to the rape kit backlog in Detroit. Throughout the rest of November, you can contribute money to help purchase “Rape Detroit,” a wearable art installation by Nate Czarling, whose work is currently on exhibit at The Burton. The piece is priced at $100. Once the asking price is met and the artist is paid, any additional donations will be used to further spread awareness to Detroit’s public and victims. I will wear the t-shirt every day from December 1 to December 31.

The RAPE/DETROIT Project is my effort to bring attention to a cause I have been concerned and frustrated with for some time. It is my hope that by bringing attention to the rape kit backlog, discussions will be sparked and relationships will be forged so that we as a community can move together toward knowledge and action.

“Rape Detroit” will continue to exhibit and donations will continue to be accepted throughout the month of November during The Burton Theatre’s operating hours.  There are 36 showtimes in these next few weeks. I strongly believe that this is a community effort–donating even the change in your pocket acknowledges the political strength of Detroit’s creative class.

A few screenings I would like to highlight as relevant to the RAPE/DETROIT Project are as follows:

Orgasm Diaries: 11/19 and 11/24 at midnight
Sex Magic: 11/26 at midnight
Paris is Burning: Free screening. 11/23 at 9pm

See you tonight.

  • Someone Who Has Been Raped

    Are you just trying to be cool and sell some shirts? Don’t you think that Rape Detroit is completely inappropriate? Wouldn’t Stop Rape in Detroit have been a better message?
    As a survivor of rape, this “slogan” is offensive, you are telling people to Rape Detroit. Did anyone thing about that? Did you speak with any rape victims or doctors/resources about the right kind of message? Or are you just a bunch of trendy fuckers who don’t care? Oh wait, yep, trendy fuckers who don’t think…. That’s it.

    • http://janefader.com Boss Fader

      Thank you for commenting. I’d like to assure you that I thought a lot about this, and I continue to think about it, and feedback and discussion is necessary to advance our thought about it.

      “Rape Detroit” is a peice of art, perhaps especially so because it challenges us to think about what constitutes art. I have my assumptions of what the artist meant (I don’t beleive it was a command, and I am also fond of it as a political idea) but art is, as we are taught these days, highly open to interpretation. When I first saw the shirt, my background in feminist film criticism almost instinctively steered me to re-read the text. It was seeing this work hanging on the Burton’s wall that launched me into doing something about an issue that’s invisibility has been bothering me for a long time.

      You are absolutely correct in accusing me of grabbing on to something that is both sensational and trendy–I want as much publicity for this cause as I can get. Sleazy though it may appear at first glance, I am confident in and proud of the elements I brought together to help make meaning of the message.

      I am working at a cultural level to affect political change.

      I am sorry to hear that you were raped. I have been raped as well. Every woman I know has been sexually assaulted, save a few. In fact, we as women are less special as victims/survivors–the majority of American women have reported or admit to being raped.

      What matters is that the authorities whose job it is to protect and bring justice to citizens have been blowing smoke up our ass about it for almost 20 years. “Sure sweetie, we’ll look into that for you…”

      No one is talking about it, let alone doing anything about it. So this is my idea. Please email me if you would like to talk about how we can work together…

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  • http://www.thatdamnredhead.net Stacy Lukasavitz

    I stopped being a cheerleader for every movement, event, and cause around here a long time ago. Not because I don’t care, but because after a while, it gets exhausting, loses its effect, and ends up falling on deaf ears (along with annoying the crap out of one’s network).

    That said, this cause, albeit controversial in name, is something I can wholeheartedly get behind and will support publicly. Having been a very active volunteer for RAINN in the past, this is one of the few causes that “hit home” on a personal level, and you are right — no one is talking about it, let alone doing anything about it.

    Yes, the name of the project makes people uneasy and hesitant to partake, but you’re right in that it NEEDS to garner as much attention and publicity as possible, trendy or no. There are thousands of victims out there who don’t give a shit about accusations of “sensationalism” or “trendiness.” They want justice. They need justice. They deserve justice. Accuse away, the cause is much more important than the controversy.

    Thank you for doing this, Jane. If there’s any way I can help, you know how to find me.

    @damnredhead

    • http://janefader.com Boss Fader

      Stacy, I want to thank you again for coming to the theatre on the very first night that I began the campaign, for sharing resources, and for offering your expertise and productive critique. It was wonderful to finally meet you and your support charged me up big time.

  • nate czarling

    HI
    I am the artist, Czarling. this is my art and property. The RAPE DETROIT PROJECT is mine. It is not a colllaboration with anyone.
    I have spoken with Jane, and she is going to change the name of her project. My project is not about the rape of women. It is about the rape of my intellectual property. Which has happened over and over. (inadvertantly again by Jane)
    In addition to the rape of my intellectual property, It is about the rape of the city.
    It is definately meant to be offensive. It’s a metaphor for people taking what is not theirs and using it to their own benefit.

  • Nicole

    Jane,

    I appreciate your enthusiasm regarding this issue as it is a serious problem and deserves serious attention however I think it is a little premature for you to suggest that nothing is being done about this issue in Detroit. The rape kit backlog is a tragedy and all people at every level, individual, community, state and federal levels should research and attempt to more fully understand how this problem came to be, what can be done to fix it and how we can prevent something like this from happening again in the future.

    Please read more about the Michigan Public Safety Project which is addressing several issues currently affecting Detroit, including the backlog…http://www.nfstc.org/programs/michigan-public-safety-project/. Detroit is receiving support from several federal grants to address this issue and, while it may have taken far too long, something is being done about this tragedy. As is clear in the NFSTC Report, there are many stakeholders that do care passionately about this issue and have taken time, energy and money to address it.

    I understand what you are trying to do here, and I respect your attempt to raise awareness on an issue that not enough people are talking about however I fear that your attempt at artistic expression may be an attempt to get people to buy you an absurdly expensive t-shirt that, unless you take the time to talk to EVERY person that reads your shirt during the month of December, will be misconstrued as offensive and it seems the artist has clarified even further that this was not the message he was conveying in his “piece.”

    Please reconsider this “project.” There are alot of wonderful events and opportunities to help the movement to end sexual violence, it would be much better advice to tell your readers to volunteer for one of the numerous sexual violence organizations in Detroit and to get involved with one of the programs yourself. This is a real way to make social and political change and most organizations are extremely excited to have volunteers suggest ideas for events.

    Here is a link to ALL of the sexual violence organizations in Michigan (a much better place for people to invest their donations and time): http://www.mcadsv.org/help/locate.php

    • http://janefader.com Boss Fader

      Hi Nicole–

      Thanks for the great resources. I’ll add them to my resource page as soon as the NFSTC corrects their error regarding the date of Detroit’s crime lab closing and the discovery of the rape kits (it was September 2008, NOT September 2009).

      Did you know that the rape kit backlog is not specific to Detroit or even Michigan? It’s a national problem. Detroit’s backlog–which is now in the hands of the State of Michigan–just happens to be one of the largest, longest-standing backlogs. This should be considered along with the fact that Detroit’s population is remarkably smaller than every other area on the “backlog list.”

      A year ago, CBS investigated the backlog at a national level and aired a one-hour documentary-style report on it. Since then, significant progress has been made eliminating the backlog (if not clearing it), researching ways to test rape kits faster and cheaper, improving policies regarding the handling of evidence, and developing laws to prevent backlogs in the first place. This is so in every entity that was investigated, with the exception of Phoenix (failed to report progress) and the State of Michigan (now in charge of Detroit’s stock).

      Michigan has spoken of a few action plans, but besides the 400 Project (one wonders why this sample is even being done when extremely current research is available from so many other states) and sending two or three individuals out on foot with the mission of locating the 10,000 victims (one wonders why there is no use of mass communication to contact the victims/survivors), no action has been taken. And no one knows about the problem.

      As for women’s groups, the only thing I am aware of in which a women’s group became involved with the backlog is that the Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention & Treatment Board received a $650,000 grant, which they handed over to the state police for processing costs. It’s estimated that this money will pay for 400 of the 10,000 rape kits (a familiar number). I think we need to question whether this money was well spent.

      So why am I not volunteering for a “legitimate” women’s organization to help raise awareness? Because it’s been two years since those rape kits were discovered and no group is speaking of it besides the MDVPT, who spoke only to law enforcement and only with money. Because I don’t agree with this allocation of money and so don’t want to involve myself with the one group that is acting. Because I believe that the rape kit backlog is only partially a “women’s” issue and confining it to being a “women’s issue” would be reductive, as well as off-putting to many people. And most of all because I am all too often greeted by “women’s groups” with an unbending moral philosophy and a matronizing lack of empathy for anything that falls outside of whatever mainstream neoliberal agenda that happens to be popular in the recycling bin at the moment.

  • Cristin

    Jane,
    This is straight up copyright enfringement. You have taken the artists’ work out of context and repurposed it for your own agenda. As a Detroit artist, myself, I am commenting out of concern.

    It is great that you have a cause, however it would make more sense if you came up with your own ideas. Essentially, you are raping Nate Czarling of his intellectual/creative property.

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