- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Nearly $4 million in funds from the Department of Justice and New York City’s district attorney will help cover the full cost of testing 12,000 backlogged rape evidence kits in Memphis, Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said Thursday.

Memphis is receiving a $1.9 million grant from the Justice Department and an additional $2 million from the District Attorney of New York, Wharton said during a news conference. His announcement came after the White House said $41 million in federal funds plus $38 million from the Manhattan prosecutor will go toward clearing backlogs in 27 states.

Rape victim advocates have said Memphis has one of the largest backlogs in the nation. Houston, Cleveland and Detroit are among the U.S. cities working to reduce rape kit backlogs.

“Certainly it was a national embarrassment, but we turned that national embarrassment into a point of acclaim in terms of saying, ‘Let’s just get the resources,’” said Wharton, who is running for re-election. “It’s about getting the folks prosecuted, but you need the testing.”

The backlog was revealed in late 2013. Wharton then established a sexual assault kit task force and made fundraising for testing a priority. So far, 7,187 kits have been tested or are waiting to be tested at a lab, according to city statistics. More than 115 indictments have been requested, 73 suspects have been named and 27 multiple-case offenders have been identified, the city said.

Rape victims have sued the city as they allege that the failure to test the kits has allowed too many rapists to escape prosecution. The city is fighting the lawsuit because it believes the legal claims are baseless, and no effort is being made to settle out of court, said Regina Morrison Newman, a deputy city attorney.

The city had estimated that testing would cost about $6.5 million, said Doug McGowen, leader of the task force. The city already had raised about $4 million from the City Council, the state and other sources, he said.

The funding announced Thursday put it over the initial estimate, which allows the task force to pump more money into investigations and other aspects connected to the testing, McGowen said.

“We know that these rape kits can help catch perpetrators and prevent additional attacks, so we should do everything we can to cut through this backlog and give victims the justice they deserve,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat who had pushed for federal funds for backlog reduction efforts.

Nashville has a backlog of about 200 rape kits, and Knoxville has about 394, according to endthebacklog.org, a website created by the Joyful Heart Foundation, which supports survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.


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