Lost Evidence Means No Justice For Rape Victims
(Memphis) Christa McCloud wants justice.
She says people who ignored thousands of rape kit evidence, including hers, should be ashamed.
“How would you feel if it was your little girl? In all fairness, I was a little girl,” Christa said. “I’m not a little girl anymore. I’m 45 years old, but at 17, I was somebody’s little girl.”
After an investigation by News Channel 3 in 2010, we exposed a systemic failure within the Memphis Police Department that left thousands of rape kits sitting untested on property room shelves.
Christa believes that since no one was actively pursuing the rapists, it gave them a free pass to continue on with their crimes.
“What it’s saying to the rapist is you have carte blanche. We’re never going to look for you. It doesn’t matter how many times you rape people, we’ll never look,” she said.
Christa and thousands of other women have the same story.
They were raped.
They voluntarily went to a rape crisis center so their bodies could be examined for evidence such as fluids, skin or hair.
Whatever was collected was placed inside and sealed in a box called a rape kit.
Each box carried hope for the victims, that their rapist would be caught.
But for more than three decades, those kits, including Christa’s, were piled into police evidence rooms, untouched.
“It’s like it went into a void. It just went into a black hole, the whole kit the whole police report the whole experience it all disappeared,” McCloud said.
Finally, this year Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong revealed that there were thousands of untested rape kits stored in three property rooms.
The Memphis Police Department is using a private firm to test most of the backlog.
Since Armstrong announced in August plans to use the private company to expedite the testing, 1,026 were tested.
But Armstrong delivered bad news to the City Council.
Police officers sorted through thousands of pieces of evidence that were mixed together.
Once that was done, nearly 12,000 were added to the backlog count. The latest tally: 12,113.
He told a council committee that it wold cost $4.6 million to test all of them.
Once Christa heard that there were untested rape kits that dated back to the 1980s, she knew hers was never tested.
It was a chilly April night in 1986, a month before Christa graduated from high school.
She and her boyfriend were at McKellar Park, a popular teen hangout back then.
As they were about to leave, a man wearing a stocking over his face grabbed Christa.
He beat her in the head with a handgun and threatened her boyfriend if he got out of the car.
Then he raped Christa on the hood of the car.
“I screamed bloody, bloody murder and no one came,” she said.
Christa was first taken to the hospital to get stitches for her head.
Then, she was taken to the rape resource center.
The staff collected biological evidence for DNA tests — evidence police never did anything with, except lose.
Christa waited for years to see if police could solve her case, which was one out of 900 in 1986.
“For years I expected that phone call,” she said.
It never came.
In 2010, WREG launched an investigation about the untested rape kits.
It took three years before city officials began to take action.
Councilwoman Wanda Halbert says the city needs to figure out how thousands of kits went untested or disappeared and must make sure it never happens again.
“We’re the ones who are supposed to provide the protections for our citizens and we have failed at that,” she says.
Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich agrees; justice is a priority.
“If it takes all 109 prosecutors in this office to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get these cases written up and prepared for grand jury, that’s what we will do.”
Memphis isn’t alone in this problem.
Large and small cities across the country are also finding thousands of untested rape kits. But many are already getting justice by testing their backlogs, and finding serial rapists.
Police in Cleveland linked at least 50 attacks to a dozen serial rapists.
Anna Whalley at the Shelby County Rape Crisis Center thinks the same will happen here.
“I believe we’ll find some serial offenders because I don’t think for most offenders they do it once. I think they’ve done it again and we may find some of those,” Whalley says.
Christa hopes that happens at least for the women whose kits weren’t lost.
“I was angry for the girls that have gone through this since then, for the girls that can’t talk about it,” Christa says. “That’s why I came to talk, if not me, who? Somebody has got to say something.”
If you would like to share your story or have been an investigator who has worked on these cases, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 901-543-2140.