MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A major victory for rape victims in the city of Memphis Monday after a circuit court judge denied an appeal from the city to drop Janet Doe V. the City of Memphis, which allows more than 10,000 victims to file suit.

Lawyers and survivors we spoke with Monday say this is a huge victory and the first step toward getting justice they should have gotten years ago. 

Samantha Shell recounts the horrific moments she was raped 20 years ago when she was just 12 years old. 

“He hit me and told me if I screamed, he was going to kill me. I’m still screaming and kicking and he came and knocked me out. When I woke up, the man was on top of me having sex with me,” she said.

Her rape kit was one of more than 12,000 kits the city of Memphis admitted they never tested for DNA. 

“The failed me, they didn’t care abut me. They didn’t care about my feelings, they didn’t care about my emotions. They didn’t care about none of that. They forgot about me and had me sitting up there on that shelf and forgot about me,” Shell said.

Shell said her rapist went on to violate 15 other women. It’s a similar story for Debby Dahloff. 

“You go through that horrible process of having that kit taken, and it’s for a purpose,” Dahloff said.

There are thousands of people in the city of Memphis with stories just like these. Monday, these victims feel they finally have a chance to be heard. 

“Justice is what we need. Justice will provide some closure because the hardest part is what we’ve dealt with with the city. It’s not my rape,” Dahloff said.

Circuit court Judge Gina Higgins approved a class action lawsuit – involving thousands — despite efforts by the city to have it thrown out. 

Lawyer Gary Smith has been working with many of these sexual assault survivors for years. 

“They still have not come up with a justification for not testing or investigating those rapes because there is no justification,” Smith said. “To allow that to just be so cavalierly treated has to be remedied so it will not ever occur again.”

For the victims, the suit won’t undo the trauma and it can’t hold their perpetrators directly responsible, but it can give them justice.

“My rape kit has black dust on there. I ain’t ever seen that before. They need to own up to what they did was wrong,” Shell said.

The City of Memphis is not commenting on the litigation but Smith said the city will appeal. He is confident the appeal will be denied and the suit will move forward.

If the case makes it to trial, the verdict will be in the hands of Judge Gina Higgins.