DETROIT, March 10 (UPI) -- Mariska Hargitay has spent the last 15 years playing a sex-crimes detective on Law & Order: SVU, a role that has inspired her to join the real-life fight against sexual assault.
The 50-year-old actress -- who founded an advocacy group for rape victims, the Joyful Heart Foundation -- joined Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy Monday in Detroit for a press conference. The two called on Michigan legislators to provide funding and resources to clear a recently discovered backlog of 11,000 untested rape kits found in a Detroit warehouse in 2009.
"To me, this is the clearest and most shocking demonstration of how we regard these crimes,” Hargitay said. "One would assume that if someone endures a four- to six-hour invasive examination, that that evidence would be handled with care."
Hargitay said that rape-kit backlog is a national problem.
“We’re essentially saying to rapists, hey come rape,” she added. “You know why? You won’t be prosecuted. No one even cares.”
Since the 2009 warehouse discovery, 1,600 of the rape kits have been tested and linked to 100 serial rapists.
Worthy's office said that while the Michigan government has already appropriated $4 million for testing of the rest of the kids, lawmakers will introduce additional legislation for testing, tracking evidence and victims' advocacy.
Hargitay said she hopes Detroit's efforts will inspire the rest of the county, where as many as 400,000 rape kids remain untested. She is also producing a documentary, Shelved, which focuses on the Detroit backlog. Production begins this week.
"I was shocked when I learned about the rape kit backlog and the lost opportunities for justice -- and healing -- it represents," Hargitay told The Hollywood Reporter. "I also find the backlog to be the starkest example of how we regard the issue of sexual violence in the country: something that belongs tucked away on a shelf. That attitude -- and the violence -- has to end, and I hope this film will open people's eyes to the value of investing in change."
[Detroit Free Press, CBS Detroit, THR]