Joyful Heart in the News

Memphis has largest backlog of untested rape kits in US

February 12, 2014
Kontji Anthony


(WMC-TV) - Memphis has the largest known number of untested rape kits in the country. It is why the City of Memphis held a news conference Wednesday morning to announce several developments regarding the city's rape kit backlog.

The Joyful Heart Foundation, which is a national rape kit advocate founded by actress Mariska Hartigay of NBC's Law and Order, pointed out that Memphis has the largest backlog of all American cities.

"While Memphis currently has the largest known backlog in this country, the fact is what Memphis also has is an unprecedented commitment," said Sarah Tofte with JHF.

The city is joining forces with the JHF to figure out how to process the more than 12,000 untested kits.

In addition, JHF says Memphis is one of the only cities to actually request a partnership to fix the problem. The city is also launching an investigation into why there was a backlog in the first place.

The news conference revealed 61 percent of the kits sent off so far showed serology results, which means those kits can now be sent off for DNA testing.

Mayor A C Wharton says this is one issue in which the city cannot be divided.

"This happens to boys, this happens to rich folks, straight folks, gay folks," said Wharton.

The foundation says, unlike Memphis, most cities sweep the problem under the rug. They found the same problem in every city. A lack of technology caused a backlog in some older kits, but the foundation says police departments and district attorney's offices have other reasons in the modern era.

"They may not think the lot needs to be sent forward, that they have other investigative evidence they could use," said Tofte. "They might question the integrity of the survivor. They might question whether or not the rape really occurred."

Either way, the foundation says Memphis' response convinces them the Bluff City will become a model for rape kit processing when all is said and done.

But it will take more money than originally expected to end the backlog of rape kits in Memphis. The city announced the cost to process the kits has grown $4.6 million to $6.5 million.

Wharton plans to ask for $1 million from city council to pay towards the cause. The city council will discuss the additional funding next Tuesday.

DA Amy Weirich also has a huge task coming up with the resources to prosecute. Police need the manpower to build case evidence and turn it over to the DAs office.

"We indict, arrests are made and the case begins in the criminal justice system," said Weirich.

Weirich says if the caseload gets too great, she too will seek out help.

"If it takes us going to governor Haslam, going to the county commission to say I need more resources, we will do that," she said.

Wharton says it is about righting a wrong that dates back to the 80s.

"I came up in the justice system. Anything that tarnishes Lady Justice's image, I get a little emotional. We're going to find the money," said Wharton.

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