Aiming to address Detroit’s lingering rape kit problem, the African American 490 Challenge organizes black women to support the resolution.
t was just five years ago when more than 11,000 untested rape kits were discovered sitting in a Detroit Police Department storage facility, some having been there for decades. With a number so large, it’s easy to forget that each kit represents a living, breathing victim. And it’s important to note that 81 percent of the victims whose rape kits were abandoned were black.
Today that number stands at just over 1,341 kits still untested. With the goal of abolishing this issue once and for all, the Michigan Women’s Foundation formed Enough Sexual Assault in Detroit, a collaboration with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and the Detroit Crime Commission.
The African American 490 Challenge is a project under the Michigan Women’s Foundation that organizes black women in the effort to raise money to process rape kits. Each kit costs $490 to process, meaning the group has a goal to raise $657,090 to pay for testing of the remaining kits.
“This is a problem where black women are really seeking justice, so we thought it was only natural that black women should be engaged in the effort to correct this problem,” says AA490 president Kim Trent. “We also recgnize that black men also have to be engaged because you’re not going to really fundamentally change rape culture unless you include men.”
Leaders with the AA490 Challenge, including former state representative Maureen Stapleton and public relations professional Darcy McConnell, were creative in their fundraising tactics, which included involving prominent black sororities and fraternities and University of Michigan vs. Michigan State fundraising challenges during football season.
Musician Erykah Badu helped raise over $35,000 for AA490 when she donated a portion of ticket sales from her July concert at Chene Park.
Not only does the group want to raise money to process the rape kits, but it's also hoping to raise money to help get the kits investigated and for prosecutions to take place.
“What I get asked a lot is, ‘Why shouldn’t government be responsible for that?’ And the answer is: They should. They absolutely should. This is definitely a failure of government, but we think that it’s very critical that we use the money that we raise to leverage more government dollars because we want the government to step up to their responsibilities,” Trent says.
“I have actually had conversations with survivors whose kits have been processed after being abandoned, whose lives have been changed by the fact that the kits were processed.”
Trent says raising awareness is one of the most important things AA490 has done. Bringing national and even local attention to this issue has helped change lives.
“I just think that it sends a strong message to the world that this community values the safety and well-being of women.”
The AA490 Challenge is about halfway to its financial goal of $657,090. You can support the organization through the group’s fundraising events. Check out its Facebook page and AA490challenge.org for information on upcoming events.