Edward R. Murrow Award Entry for Excellence in Hard News
While it took 17 years to find justice, Michelle Kuiper is using her experience as a rape survivor to help others across Kentucky.
"I always feel like it happened to my body and not my soul, and that's how I survived it," Kuiper said about her 1994 attack.
She was a freshman at the University of Louisville when she was pulled off the porch of her Cherokee Park home, dragged under the neighbor's deck, and sexually assaulted.
"Even then, I kind of went to another place, I think, to survive that moment," Kuiper said.
She ran to her neighbor and friend who, fortunately, was a fourth-year medical student. "God sent her to me because she knew what to do," Kuiper said.
Police were called and a rape kit was collected.
Seventeen years later police found a DNA match leading to Curtis Boyd’s conviction and sentencing to 33 years in prison.
"I was lucky all the way around. Many are not so lucky. You're talking about 97 percent never see a day in jail," Kuiper said.
Boyd's conviction freed Kuiper's story.
"How can we take that horrible, horrific experience and re-frame it to say 'This should never happen to anyone, ever,'" Kuiper told WKYT's Miranda Combs from the state capitol in Frankfort.
For the past few years, the capitol halls have become a second home as she advocates for fellow survivors and tougher laws to protect sexual assaults from ever happening.
"I think it's put a face on it, to humanize it. To show that it can happen to anyone," Kuiper said.
Kuiper is proud of the progress Kentucky is making.
After a startling audit in 2015 that found more than 3,000 untested kits in Kentucky, the state landed funding to solve the backlog. Almost 2,700 tests have since been completed, resulting in 103 DNA matches.
Kuiper said the next step for Kentucky is requiring DNA swabs at felony arrests as 32 other states already do.
"If we're not going to swab for that profile, then there are going to be many serial rapists like mine who are on the streets and they are never caught," Kuiper said.
State Sen. Whitney Westerfield was the first to introduce a law that would require DNA swabs at felony arrests in 2013. It failed to become law, but he's continued to support it for the past three years.
"There's a big brother fear that lots of legislators have and that hasn't gone away. In fact, it's probably gotten worse," Sen. Westerfield told Combs.
Kuiper will continue to advocate for sexual assault survivors.
"If nobody talks about it, and we all just keep it in the dark and act like it's not happening, then nothing is ever going to be done about it," she said.