Memphis Sued By Woman Over 15,000 Lost Rape Kits

Hey, so does anyone remember where Memphis put 15,000 untested rape kits? No? Well, Memphis doesn't either, and now it's being sued for it. Surely it's kind of hard to lose 15,000 rape kits? An anonymous female resident and rape victim thinks so. She's filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, alleging that they just sort of let the tests gather dust and spoil. Her rape kit is one among the 15,000 that were reportedly lost.

After waiting 13 years for her rape kit to be tested, the woman was apparently told that the evidence had, at that point, expired. But there's a twist: Jane Doe alleges that the city "lost" them deliberately — i.e., chucked them in the bin, at the behest of Memphis Police Department policymakers.

Of course, losing 15,000 rape kits is not exactly like losing a set of car keys. No one is meant to keep an electronic or paper trail of where you put those (hint: check the microwave). Ultimately, Jane Doe's lawsuit is one built around discrimination and the equal protection clause of the Constitution: She argues that sexual assault crimes are being given a lower priority, and that their loss was no mistake. The city knew, she alleges, that the police department was chucking the kits the whole time. As Opposing Views reports:

“Defendant has a history of discriminating against females,” [her] lawsuit continues. “Defendant treats domestic violence abuse reports from women with less priority than other crimes not involving women reporting domestic violence abuse.”
It also claims the city “knew about the herein described conduct and facilitated it, approved it, condoned it and/or turned a blind eye to it.”

Memphis doesn't exactly have a great track record when it comes to this issue. In November, the city admitted that they had 12,113 untested rape kits sitting around — enough to account for for one sexual assault a day for 33 years (if it seems like a jump to get from there to 15,000, in August the police department admitted to just 2,000 untested kits). But because it would cost the city $4.6 million to process all of those kits, Memphis couldn't really be bothered.

Congressional estimates in 2010 guess that 180,000 rape kits remain untested around the country. That's a huge disservice to the women and men who have undergone that sort of trauma. Many might assume that the kit's been tested, that police have found nothing, and that their case is closed. But, unfortunately, for those 15,000 or so women who went through the process of submitting a rape kit, that's not the case at all.

As Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan writes:

This is especially upsetting when taking into consideration the process of submitting to a post-rape forensic medical exam can be upsetting and traumatic for victims, involving a head-to-toe exam, including an internal exam and photo documentation. That thousands of women submitted to the process and trusted law enforcement would follow up only to be let down by the institutions that are supposed to protect is unconscionable. If police departments exist to protect civilians, only they fail to protect half of civilians, then for what purpose do police departments exist?

Can we just reiterate, one more time: 15,000?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)