A full day of events addressing issues of sexual assault and domestic violence is planned for Thursday, June 25th, but the intended audience isn't the demographic most affected by those crimes.
Rather than focus on women for these events, the Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Taskforce is inviting men to be guests at its quarterly "community conversation" event. That public forum will be immediately followed by the annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, where men are asked to don high heels for a one-mile awareness walk.
"Men have been basically silent on the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. And the silence is what creates the permissive space for abusers to be abusive," said Kevin Reed, the Shelby County judicial commissioner over the domestic violence court and a member of the SAK Taskforce.
The taskforce, which was established in January 2014 to deal with the city's rape kit backlog, has been hosting quarterly public forums since its formation. The first few meetings lacked a theme, but they've begun narrowing the intended audience. Taskforce coordinator Doug McGowan said they invited women's groups last time, and the next meeting will focus on student groups. But men's groups are invited to this upcoming meeting, scheduled for 3 p.m. on June 25th at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.
"Men have to understand that we have a role to play. We want to come up with ways that men can be part of the solution, whether that's holding each other collectively accountable or teaching the next generation of young men the expectations for behavior relative to domestic violence and sexual assault," McGowan said.
The Memphis Area Women's Council (MAWC) is behind the annual Walk a Mile event, which is in its fifth year. The walk kicks off at 5 p.m., immediately following the community conversation meeting. Participants will walk from the Cannon Center to the FedExForum Plaza, and while high heels aren't required, they are encouraged.
"We as women aren't giving up any responsibility or energy to change this. We're saying that men have to unite with us," said Deborah Clubb, executive director of MAWC and a member of the SAK Taskforce
After the walkers arrive at FedExForum Plaza, Mayor A C Wharton's office will hold a press conference to announce the city's launch of the Memphis Say No More campaign, a public-awareness campaign that will feature local celebrities and ordinary Memphians speaking out against rape and domestic violence on billboards and posters around town.
The events aren't without critics. Meaghan Ybos, a rape survivor and activist, said the June 25th events won't do much to solve the city's rape kit backlog crisis.
"If Memphis wants to end rape, they can start by prosecuting rapists," Ybos said. "It's nice to have PSAs, but the problem in Memphis isn't that people are unaware that these things are happening. People are very aware that we're being raped. It's the police that need to change."
The SAK Taskforce reported last week that 53 percent of the total inventory of rape kits had been fully analyzed or are at labs awaiting analysis. Of that percentage, only 15 percent have been completely processed for DNA, but that number isn't often publicly touted. Investigations have resulted in 98 requests for indictments of known individuals or DNA profiles.
When the taskforce began their work of getting the kits tested, there were a little more than 12,300 backlogged kits. Ybos has been critical of the city's progress, and she says the city shouldn't be combining the numbers for tested kits with those still awaiting testing at labs.
"That's a slap in the face to victims because they're misleading us by claiming progress for something that hasn't been done yet," Ybos said.
But Clubb said the tests sitting at labs are at least further along than they were before, when they were piled up for years in the city's backlog.
"The labs can only do what they can do, and we're using four labs," Clubb said. "Other cities and counties are trying to get stuff to labs too, and rape kits aren't the only thing the labs are trying to process. We can't speed it up, but we're staying on it."