Thousands of Untested Kits in Tennessee
Tennessee News Service
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – President Barack Obama has included an additional $41 million in funding for rape kit testing reform in his 2017 budget.
If it survives the contentious federal budgeting process, the money could help process the more than 9,000 untested rape kits at Tennessee law enforcement agencies, some as many as 30 years old.
Ilse Knecht is a senior adviser for policy and advocacy with the Joyful Hearts Foundation, a group sponsoring an End the Backlog initiative. She says the money would go a long way toward increased justice and community safety.
“Every day, we see stories of rape kits connecting to a known offender and it’s really a testament to how this program can work and is working across the country and this money is so important to communities, like Memphis,” she states.
Other federal funding has already been granted to some cities, including Memphis, where recent testing resulted in the arrest of a man in a second rape case.
Memphis still has an estimated backlog of 7,000 untested rape kits. Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam signed legislation creating protocol for how the kits are collected, with some going to police and others to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for forensic analysis.
Knecht says some of the funding would support programs to help victims who discover their attacker has been caught as a result of rape kit testing.
“Every rape kit represents a sexual assault survivor, and each one of those survivors deserves to be supported through the process of re-engaging with the system, so that we’re not doing more harm when we ask them to come back into the justice system, so many years later,” she stresses.
Knecht says the End the Backlog initiative is using public records requests to pinpoint the number of untested rape kits at the Tennessee Crime Lab.
It’s also working to identify the same information in Nashville, where research so far indicates 4,500 kits, some dating back to 1995, were sent to the state lab for processing in August 2014.