Mayor Blames Rape Victims’ Lawsuit For Tough Time Getting Funding For Rape Kit Testing

(Memphis) MPD says it has a new process for responding to sex assault cases.

The biggest change is taking victims to the Rape Crisis Center for questioning instead of 201 Poplar.

There’s also progress in rape kit testing.

So far, 91 rape kits have been tested from the backlog and 14 cases are indicted.

“We are by no means claiming we have made a dent in the thousands-plus,” Mayor A C Wharton said.

But seeing rape cases investigated that sat on the shelves for decades is progress.

“It has been one of the best reform efforts we’ve been a part of,” Sarah Tofte said.

Tofte is with the non-profit Joyful Heart. It’s helping Memphis work through its rape kit backlog and has helped other cities dealing with the same issues.

“The fact that every one of the results that have come back so far have been investigated is really significant and actually quite rare.”

But this process of testing more than 12,000 kits is slow and expensive.

The city is sending rape kits to a private lab in Texas, since TBI lacks the manpower to handle the load.

It will take $6.5 million to test all of the kits, and that’s money the city doesn’t have.

Last week, state lawmakers voted not to fund the testing.

At the progress report meeting Wednesday, the Memphis mayor didn’t criticize them.

“I’m not going to get into a big political blow out on that,” he said.

Mayor Wharton did point the finger at a lawsuit filed by rape victims.

They’re suing the city because their kits sat on shelves for years, and in some cases were lost or destroyed.

“We are working with the philanthropic community. And unfortunately, it clouds things when lawsuits are filed,” Wharton said.

He says the lawsuit is making it tough to get funding.

“It really threw me off track. I am almost certain I could have substantial philanthropic money in hand right now,” he said.

Wharton says he will keep fighting for funding from the state and the federal government because this issue is not just a Memphis one.

Tofte said other cities she has helped with this process have been aided by the state.

She said she wished that the State of Tennessee would have helped fund the much needed testing to bring justice for victims.