An anonymous Memphis woman has filed a class-action lawsuit against her city for failing to test an estimated backlog of 15,000 rape kits — including her own kit from 2001.
According to the complaint filed on Dec. 20, over the past several decades, thousands of Memphis women have reported their sexual assaults and received rape kits — or "had body fluid samples removed from their bodies and placed within sexual assault evidence kits." But scores of those kits were sent to the Memphis Police Department and left untested, allegedly resulting in "spoliation."
The lawsuit was filed by a single mother who was raped multiple times in the early hours of March 30, 2001, when an intruder broke through her window and bound her arms and feet.
The woman says she was treated at Shelby County's Rape Crisis Center, where her samples were put into a Memphis Police Department Sexual Assault Evidence Kit. But the kit was never submitted for testing, according to the lawsuit, and the intruder was never arrested.
Memphis has previously acknowledged its enormous backlog of rape kits, with Police Director Toney Armstrong saying in November that the department will have 12,000 unprocessed rape kits "even after an initial round of 2,226 kits is tested," according to Memphis' Commercial Appeal. (The department received $500,000 in September to test the kits and $1 million to build a facility to house them.)
In an interview with the Commercial Appeal, Deputy Memphis Police Chief Jim Harvey attributed the backlog to several factors, including advances in DNA-testing technology — which meant re-testing old kits that only tested blood types — and outdated procedures, such as police using staplers to bound envelopes of evidence together, or not testing kits when the victim knew his or her attacker. He also blamed the department's lack of record-keeping abilities on an employee who was responsible for transporting rape kits into storage. That employee has since died.
"[There] may have been some kind of document that Hyun Kim was storing this information in, but we don't know, because he died," Harvey said. "And when he died, everything he knew went with him."
The lawsuit accuses the city of failing to supervise, train, or discipline the Memphis Police Department.
"Defendant knew about the herein described conduct and facilitated it, approved it, condoned it and/or turned a blind eye to it," wrote Jane Doe's lawyer, Robert L.J. Spence Jr.
It further alleges that the backlog of rape kits is "motivated by gender" and that the city has a "history of discriminating against females."
"Defendant treats domestic violence abuse reports from women with less priority than other crimes not involving women reporting domestic violence abuse," Spence added.
Earlier this month, a 28-year-old woman who was gang-raped in 2002 told Memphis' WREG about how her kit — which wasn't tested for two years — landed one of her three attackers in jail.
"Every rape, whether you are 5 or 50, should be the number one priority and it needs to be taken seriously," she said.
It's been estimated that clearing the backlog will cost the city $4 million.
Read the full class-action complaint here:
Jessica Testa is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Jessica Testa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.