New Fund Established to Help Test City’s Rape Kits 

Anonymous donor gives $10,000 to assist with testing.

Testing the thousands of backlogged rape kits that surfaced in Memphis last year is estimated to cost more than $6.5 million, and officials said this month that more than $3.7 million is still needed to reach that goal. 

The Memphis Police Department (MPD) and the Shelby County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) have funded the effort so far through direct support from the Memphis City Council, grants from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a $750,000 challenge grant from the Plough Foundation that will be issued once the funding gap is closed.

But a curious new source of funds has emerged. A private, anonymous donor gave $10,000 to the effort this month. The anonymous donor parked those funds at the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis (CFGM). In doing so, the donor established the Sexual Assault Resource Fund, which is now open to anyone looking to help clear the rape kit backlog. 

"I think it's really going to fill the gap," said Sutton Mora Hayes, vice president of the CFGM. "It will help get additional testing that needs to be done, but it will also help the organizations that work with victims. It will help [the organizations] with training and capacity building."

Hayes said, for example, the fund could be used to support hiring more victims' counselors at the Shelby County Rape Crisis Center. Or it could be used, she said, for technical assistance, policy work, training law enforcement, or just processing more rape kits. The final decision on how the funds are used is up to a panel comprised of members from the Cross-Functional Team, which oversees the rape kit testing project.

Funds like this are not unusual to the CFGM, Hayes said. The foundation has worked with the city and county on several projects in the past, including the purchase of the land for the Shelby Farms Greenline. 

In related news, construction is set to begin next month on a new building to store rape kits and all DNA evidence for the MPD and the SCSO. 

Rape kits have been moved over the years from the old MPD headquarters at 128 Adams, to 201 Poplar, and then to the MPD's property and evidence storage facility in the old International Harvester building. These moves were part of the confusion that led to the rape kit backlog.

The new space will be built at the Harvester location with the capacity to store about 60,000 kits. The facility will be climate-controlled and come with a price tag of about $1 million. Construction is estimated to take about four months.

Progress is being made in the situation with 222 investigations launched since the untested rape kits surfaced in May 2013. But fixing the problem will be anything but quick or cheap in the long run.  

Testing all of the kits could take up to five years, according to a report from the Cross-Functional Team. The one-time glut of cases into the system has created a glut of work for law enforcement and prosecutors. Both will need more employees (and more money to pay them) to conclude the project.

Rape kit backlog by the numbers:

• 12,374 total rape kits discovered 

• 6,722 not yet tested

• Nearly 5,000 of those kits collected before DNA testing existed

• 2,495 now being tested, majority at a private lab

• 222 investigations initiated based on testing

• 90 investigations remain active

• 132 investigations have been closed

• 20 individuals identified as being previously convicted

• 34 indictments issued

• 14 of those are suspects based on hits from the FBI's Combined DNA Index (CODIS) System

• 20 suspects remain as John Doe, not identified

• 18 cases closed because victim or suspect has died

• 21 cases closed because victims have been contacted but did not want to participate in a further investigation

• 27 cases not caught before the statute of limitations expired

• 3 cases investigated did not meet the statute definitions of a crime

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