Led by the Memphis Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, the Memphis Says NO MORE campaign began in spring 2015. We seek to bring awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault to change both the public dialogue and the amount of gender violence in our city while also guiding survivors and each of us to needed resources for help and healing.
In the summer of 2013, Memphis leaders confirmed existence of more than 12,000 stored rape kits. Roughly half contained forensic evidence that had not been seen by a laboratory.
All kits were inventoried, shipped and tested and results returned to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation scientists for review and entering into the federal CODIS database. That process continues along with years to come of work to use those kits to convict rapists and make our communities safer.
Years before #MeToo, Memphis confronted decades of failure to fully respond to victims of sexual violence. Mayor AC Wharton appointed a multi-agency task force to oversee funding testing of all stored kits, training and changing policies to prevent future backlog, adequate support for victim-centered investigation and prosecution of all old cases and community outreach to rebuild trust and bolster services for survivors.
From grocery checkout lines to church pews and book club suppers, Memphians began to talk about rape. A tragic and terrible subject was pulled into focus where we could talk about why it happens and how to respond to rapists and those who are raped.
From its beginning in December 2013, the task force was guided by understanding that in most of these crimes, a woman or girl’s body is the crime scene.
Thanks to our Rape Crisis Center, a hub of forensic services, nursing care and counseling for rape survivors for more than 40 years, and MPD’s policy of retaining all evidence, Memphis had stored kits dating to the late 1970s. Some were from solved cases where a suspect was convicted. Some were from cases where no suspect was identified. Others were from cases where evidence to move forward was judged to be lacking.
Memphis Police, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Shelby County Rape Crisis Center, District Attorney’s office, Memphis City Council, the City Mayor’s office, Memphis Area Women’s Council, Plough Foundation and Joyful Heart Foundation had representatives on the initial task force.
It became clear as we met with other “backlog cities” in Cleveland and Detroit that our task force approach and focus on community outreach and victims set us apart. More recently the Memphis approach is featured in a chapter of the first comprehensive academic look at the United States’ rape kit backlog effort Sexual Assault Kits and Reforming the Response to Rape edited by PhDs Rachel E. Lovell and Jennifer Langhinrichsen-Rohling.
We cannot undo the failings of the past but committed effort:
- Raised more than $11.1 million in city, state, federal and philanthropic funds to pay for DNA analysis of old kits plus equipment and personnel for police, prosecutors and victim advocates.
- A new $1 million evidence and property storage room was built for MPD.
- Worked with four national labs, TBI and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to get all useable kits analyzed
- Raised $100,000 from a local funder to launch Memphis Says NO MORE campaign
- Organized public training sessions and Community Conversations on consent, victim trauma, rape services, men and violence and task force updates
- Revised MPD procedure to send all new sexual assault kits for serology and DNA testing within 96 hours and adopt victim-centered methods in investigations.
- Based adult sexual assault victim interviews at the Rape Crisis Center, eliminating need to journey to police offices at 201 Poplar
- Backed new law to remove statute of limitations on rape in Tennessee
- Updated testing and DNA case progress for the city council and mayor monthly through 2017, with public reports posted on the city website.
- Created a Sexual Assault Resource Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis to accept funds for DNA case work and community outreach
Memphis Says NO MORE is one of dozens of state and locally led coalitions championing the NO MORE movement in their communities. Learn more about the national NO MORE campaign.