Why is there a huge backlog of rape kit testing in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in 2021, law enforcement agencies in Shelby County submitted more than 300 sexual assault requests to TBI.      

The agency said during the past year the turnaround was 33 to 49 weeks to get those kits processed. TBI said MPD submitted a sexual assault kit on September 23, 2021, two days after the incident allegedly happened.        

RELATED: Turnaround for rape kit tests raises concerns

However, the results identifying Cleotha Henderson as the suspect did not come back until last week.

“Most people think if it’s under a year, that that is acceptable. But again, the reality is, it only takes a few weeks to do the testing on the kit,” said Christopher Herrmann, The City University of New York. 

TBI said the turnaround time on sexual assault kits within the last year was up to 49 weeks. That’s three weeks shy of a whole year.    

And in that time, investigators believe Cleotha Henderson attacked again. He’s charged with kidnapping and killing Eliza Fletcher as she jogged near the University of Memphis campus early on the morning of September 2nd. 

“The Fletcher case is a great example. If this guy was off the street or if this guy at least had been identified. This high-profile case would have never happened,” said Herrman.

Christopher Herrman, a Department of Law and Police Science Assistant Professor at The City University of New York shares why there is a sexual assault kit backlog issue. “The fact that it is a nationwide problem, the fact that it is an expensive issue and it takes longer than most other criminal justice processes. I think that’s why we see this significant backlog,” said Herrman. 

Herrmann said it may cost up to 1,500 dollars to test a kit. 

“When there is thousands of them waiting to be tested, it just becomes overwhelming for the people that are testing, for the budget,” said Herrman.          

TBI said they are looking to hire three more scientists for their crime labs. “This is a big system they’re getting into. A lot of procedures, steps, and delays, so it could take years before you get answers or results,” said Debroah Clubb, Memphis Area Women’s Club.      

Deborah Clubb is an advocate with the Memphis Area Women’s Club. She says lack of funding is contributes to the sexual assault kit backlog. 

“It’s somewhat expensive and time-consuming enterprise. It needs state support,” said Clubb.       

While Clubb said it is important women do what they must to protect themselves, like stay vigilant or take a self-defense class, she says men must stop assaulting women.

 “Men need to stop victimizing us, have to stop raping us, beating us, saying I love you while, while smashing us against the wall. That’s what needs to change,” said Clubb.