While sexual assault can be a difficult topic, it’s something that deserves and needs urgent attention. Inspired by a devastating loss in her own family, Gold Award Girl Scout Kayla felt passionately about this issue and knew she had the power to help.
Before Kayla was born, her aunt was raped and murdered in her own home. “Elena’s killer was never convicted because her sexual assault kit was never tested, and she’s not the only one,” Kayla said. “When I started my Girl Scout Gold Award project, there were over 100,000 untested sexual assault kits in the U.S. That means that over 100,000 victims of sexual assault had not received justice for the crime committed against them, including my aunt, Elena.”
According to the CDC, more than half of all women in the United States have experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes. It’s a horrific reality, and one that also often goes unreported. From law enforcement's limited capacity to test rape kits, the fear of retribution, and even feeling retraumatized by having to retell the story of what happened to them, many survivors decide to keep their experience to themselves.
Wanting to humanize the issue, so people not only see the numbers, but see the people behind these acts of violence and the impact they have had, Kayla decided to break the silence by sharing her aunt’s story with hundreds of people, emailing every U.S. Senator about the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog, and giving others the knowledge and tools to take action as well.
She started with the staggering backlog of sexual assault cases across the United State. Kayla says, “It is estimated that hundreds and thousands of rape kits sit untested in police departments and crime lab storage facilities across the country. In 2009, Michigan’s Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office discovered 11,341 untested sexual assault kits in a Detroit Police Department storage facility. Since then, thousands of untested kits have been popping up all over the country, contributing to over 400,000 being backlogged.” While the kits in Michigan were eventually tested, these nationwide numbers are staggering.
Through proper advocacy and appropriate action, Kayla planned to get legislators and other community members to speak out against the backlog. She worked to create true change by helping to revise protocols and pass laws to officially end the backlog.
Kayla began by launching an in-depth research project. What she discovered laid the groundwork for the speech she gave about the issue at the Kentucky United Nations Assembly. She continued her work by informing the greater community, inspiring others to become advocates, and writing letters to legislators for social justice for victims of violence and their families.
The work Kayla put into spreading awareness made a difference in the lives of many. Her audiences learned more about sexual violence and how to help solve forgotten cases. Kayla mentioned that one of the best parts of her project was being able to help victims feel heard along the way.
She notes that she eventually reached her goal, saying, “In educating people about sexual assault kit backlog … some of them even started advocating with me. I’ve been told by a victim of sexual assault that I made them feel validated for the first time, leaving a positive impact on their life. I emailed all legislators in the U.S., and I’m still working hard to create change in legislation but reached my goal in taking the first step to change.”
Kayla’s passion for advocacy encouraged others. She later led teams to research with her, guiding them to the information she needed. When Kayla dealt with setbacks during her project, like contracting COVID and was temporarily unable to do her work, her community and friends helped her reach her goals. She learned how to build a community all while tapping into leadership skills like project management, time management, and organization.
As the team continued their research, Kayla took steps towards becoming a leader of change by contacting senators and using her voice to educate people within the community. Kayla’s experience helped her realize her passion for public speaking and taught her the ways in which writing can be powerful and help make a difference. She is proud to note that since beginning her advocacy work, more than 40,000 Sexual Assault Kits have been cleared from the backlog and multiple states have been prosecuting perpetrators for their crimes.
Though her work started close to home, Kayla built a community by being a voice for those who have gone unheard for so long. Though there’s still much work to be done, Gold Award Girl Scout Kayla’s efforts are here to stay. Her words have indeed made an important impact in the lives of sexual assault survivors and many others.