MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A woman said she’s waited months and will likely have to wait several more for her rape kit to be processed.
The woman, who asked us to hide her identity, said she was raped by a University of Memphis student athlete last November, but her case is in limbo until her rape kit results come back.
“We sat there watching a movie and he just kept touching on me,” she said. “My mind was blank, and I was trying not to cry.”
She said it happened November 18, 2018, at the Gather on Southern apartments near campus.
“He got up and got all the way undressed, and I said, ‘What are you doing? We aren’t going to have sex,'” she said.
She said she repeated those words, but claims he didn’t listen.
“I was moving and maneuvering away,” she went on to say. “He got up. Flushed the condom.”
Later that night, her mother took her to get a rape kit and file a report with Memphis police.
Four months later, she said her case remains under investigation, and her rape kit hasn’t been tested.
Every rape kit MPD collects winds up here in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab.
The Memphis lab has five full-time forensic scientists who analyze DNA including rape kits.
Donna Nelson is the lab’s supervisor.
“The turnaround time we currently have for sexual assault kits in the Memphis lab is 35 weeks,” she said. “I remember when we had a 12-week turnaround time. If you want to compare the two, yes. It could be better.”
In 2010, WREG uncovered over 12,000 rape kits dating back to 1985 sitting on shelves at MPD untested.
Our continued pressure led to promises that all the kits would be processed either at private or state labs. The TBI is still working to clear that backlog.
Keep in mind though, some of the kits that went to private labs are circling back to the TBI if they got a DNA hit.
TBI’s forensic scientists have to take the time to look over the kit and plug info into the FBI’s database called CODIS.
This review process takes time away from a scientist that could otherwise be testing evidence submitted to TBI Crime Labs.
“A private lab does not have access to CODIS,” she said.
Nelson said they have consistently received more rape kits from the Memphis Department. That may be because MPD now requires kits to be submitted within 96 hours, and a law passed in Tennessee in 2016 requires all agencies to submit kits within 60 days of collection.
The law further requires the TBI to perform serological or DNA testing on all submitted sexual assault kits. Additional activities involving Sexual Assault Kits, both outsource review and newly submitted cases, have put a tremendous strain on Forensic Biology resources statewide.
WREG asked Nelson what she needs.
“Personnel,” she said. “I can’t put an exact number. If I were to guess, I would say a minimum of four people here in the Memphis lab.”
Until state lawmakers get the lab more funding more personnel, 35 weeks may remain the standard for a rape kit to be processed.
Agencies can ask to expedite rape kits, but that only delays other cases.
We asked MPD for an interview, but never heard back.
We’re also waiting for an open records request we submitted 18 days ago to find out how many rape kits MPD submitted in the past two years were analyzed.
What we were able to uncover, emails dating back to 2017.
They show MPD has been in contact with Portland, Oregon, police about their software that tracks every sexual assault kit.
Portland police told WREG they gave Memphis their software free of charge and are currently installing it and conducting training here in Memphis.
MPD says any survivor can call their hotline at 901-636-3438 to get an update on their rape kit.
However, officials say this new software is supposed to make it easier for officers to give victims an update on their rape kits, and the goal is to allow victims to log on themselves.
No word when that will happen though.
“I feel like they don’t care. They are brushing it off,” said the woman we spoke to about her alleged rape.
Frustration she shares with other victims, who yet again are forced tow ait for their rape kit to be tested so they can close a difficult chapter.
WREG reached out to the University of Memphis. A spokesperson said they are aware of an off-campus incident involving a student athlete and are cooperating with police.