I recently had a chance to sit down with bestselling crime novelist, former Sex Crimes Unit chief prosecutor of the New York County District Attorney and staunch advocate for rape kit reform, Linda Fairstein. Despite her non-stop schedule around the March 1st paperback release of HELL GATE, Linda was able to provide me with a thoroughly fascinating account of what it was like to lead the New York County District Attorney Sex Crimes prosecution unit for 26 years, her well-informed thoughts on rape kit reform and insight into how she sits down to write her best-selling novels. This is the first of our three-part interview. Be sure to check back over the coming days for the rest.
Sarah Tofte: Thank you for taking the time to talk today me today. First of all, I would love to learn why you became a prosecutor.
Linda Fairstein: It was a very different time, as many women know from their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. There were many professions that were closed to women in those days. I went to Vassar College and I was the last all-women’s class. I went there because it had a fabulous liberal arts education and the English Department was very strong. More >
I recently spoke with Kimberly Hurst, the Executive Director of the Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner’s (SAFE) Program, who told me about her work starting Detroit’s SAFE program and caring for victims of sexual assault.
Sarah Tofte: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. Would you talk about your current work and how you got here?
Kimberly Hurst: I am the Executive Director for the Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner’s Program. I founded the program in 2006, and we are the only non-profit provider of sexual assault exams in Detroit. We are the largest SAFE program in the state and the busiest. We provide medical and forensic care, as well as community- based advocacy and crisis intervention services. We provide a comprehensive and compassionate continuum of care in order to improve the community’s response to sexual assault and set a higher a standard.
I am a licensed physician’s assistant and my training is in Emergency Medicine. I have been practicing for ten years. When I was in school, I had a strong interest in the forensics and the pathology. I had done a rotation doing autopsies and More >
Charles Courtney, Jr., was arrested in Franklin County, Indiana in September 1996, for the knifepoint rape of his wife, Mary Jane, when she told him she wanted a divorce the night he returned from a trip on his job as a long-distance truck driver. Like defendants in many domestic violence cases, Courtney was offered a plea to a lesser charge of sexual battery. As such, his two-year sentence was far lighter than it would have been had he raped a stranger–a sad truth about many rapists whose victims are partners or acquaintances. That conviction earned the government the right to put Courtney’s genetic profile in the FBI’s convicted-offender databank. He was released from prison on January 4, 1998.
Three months later, a 21-year-old woman named Amberly Lakes was kidnapped in a parking lot outside a grocery store in Fairfield, Ohio, and taken to a remote location where her unknown assailant raped her repeatedly at knifepoint. In 2001, Lakes’ case was solved when the evidence preserved during her medical exam after the attack yielded DNA that matched Charles Courtney’s profile. Even though her evidence kit had More >
From news sources national to local to campus-based, the backlog has been receiving a lot of coverage lately. A couple weeks ago, a Georgia high school student named Brittany emailed Joyful Heart to ask for an interview with Sarah Tofte, JHF’s Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships, for an article she was writing for her school newspaper, The Pitchfork.
Whether they are just embarking on their journalistic pursuits or they are award-winning veterans in the field, journalists are crucial to our efforts to end the backlog. Because only one state (Illinois) requires jurisdictions to track their rape kits at the moment, a lot of investigative work must, and has, been done by the media to uncover the nature of backlogs. One of the most important steps in creating a movement–a revolution, even–is raising awareness. Writing articles is a great way to do this, and there are so many resources that can help.
Brittany was kind enough to send along her completed article published in The Pitchfork’s February 18 issue for us to post here on our blog. We thought we’d share it with you.
Can you describe what happened? Did you get a good look? Could you give us a description? These are the hounding questions More >
California Assemblyman Anthony Portantino has introduced legislation in the state government to track and report untested rape kits and set a time limit for labs to process them. From an article on patch.com:
The bill, AB 322…would mandate that rape kits used for DNA testing be sent by law enforcement agencies to a lab within 30 days, and be processed within six months. Agencies would also have to send regular reports on the number of unprocessed rape kits to the [California] Department of Justice that would be also be available to the public.
Portantino, a strong advocate of rape kit reform, has introduced similar legislation in the past, which passed in the legislature both times, but was vetoed by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who cited a lack of available time and money on the part of law enforcement. From the press release issued by Portantino’s office:
“It’s unconscionable that thousands of rape kits remain unopened and untested across California,” stated Portantino. “Rape kits hold vital evidence that is crucial to a criminal conviction, while the clock is ticking on the statute of limitation for these crimes. It’s frustrating to know that a rapist could be walking free and a victim who suffered is further disrespected because a vital More >