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Tennessee rape kits sit on shelves, updates pending

By Stephanie Carson • Updated Feb 20, 2018 at 11:00 AM

NASHVILLE – At last count, more than 9,000 rape kits sat on shelves in storage across Tennessee, but that number could be even higher. 

The state comptroller’s office recommends lawmakers ask for an update on the status of processing the kits – at the same time that a national campaign is releasing a series of public service announcements to underscore the importance of crime labs catching up on the problem. 

Ilse Knecht, policy and advocacy director for the Joyful Heart Foundation, said Tennessee has some work to do.

“They’ve been testing them, but we don’t really know what it looks like right now, and I think there needs to be another, some kind of audit or inventory to see, you know, have people been sending their old kits?” she said. “Are they sending their new kits? Are they complying with the law?”

Last year Tennessee legislators introduced a bill to shorten the deadlines for submission of newly collected rape kits, but the bill did not pass. 

Currently, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation, Memphis’ crime lab has a 32-week turnaround time for testing rape kits, Knoxville’s is 10 weeks and Nashville has a 16-week wait.

The PSA released by Joyful Heart is titled “Shelved” and features a rape survivor who is taken to a tall shelf in a warehouse filled with hundreds of other survivors waiting on their kits to be tested.

“The man that raped me was white, about 5 feet, 10 inches, probably about 170 pounds, crooked nose, sandy blond hair,” the survivor said. “All of those details, plus the DNA, is enough evidence for you to catch him, right? Right?”

Knecht said while resolution of rape cases is a need for survivors of assault - processing them also results in the solving of hundreds of other crimes and the prevention of untold more. 

“They commit all kinds of crimes,” she said. “When you look at the rap sheets, it’s domestic violence; it’s homicide; it’s robbery, burglary, assault. 

“These guys are one-man wrecking crews on society. The public should be very concerned that these aren’t being tested, because it’s such a great tool to take really dangerous people off the street.”

Actress Mariska Hargitay created the Joyful Heart Foundation after playing a detective on the TV series “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” 

She says the content of the scripts and letters she received from fans of the show prompted her to take action.

The Joyful Heart Foundation released a public service announcement this month nationwide, working to raise awareness about the problem of untested rape kits in crime labs across the country. Watch the video at lebanondemocrat.com.

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