NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s being considered a step in the right direction; this week, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced turnaround times for sexual assault kits have been cut in half.
Gov. Bill Lee has called the news “encouraging,” but advocates are pushing for the TBI to cut the time even more.
Forensic testing can often produce a threat of information that the common eye cannot see.
“You have strangers photographing your entire body and swabbing your body, and even though it is a warm and comforting environment, what’s being done can feel also traumatic. It takes a lot of bravery and then wondering ‘is this going to help me getting justice if I want to move forward,'” explained Lorraine McGuire with the Sexual Assault Center.
McGuire and her team at the Sexual Assault Center see the impact sexual assaults have on men and women every day. The Safe Clinic serves as the only 24-hour non-hospital clinic in Davidson County while also serving the surrounding six counties.
However, it’s the following weeks, months, or even years after coming into the clinic that make a huge difference for some.
“These labs aren’t just processing rape kits, they are processing all kinds of other things as well and our Assistant District Attorney said this, where she believes all rapes need to be treated like homicides because it’s a violent crime,” McGuire said.
The statewide conversation around sexual assault kit turnaround times was sparked after the death of Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher. She was abducted and killed after going for an early morning run. Her alleged killer was linked to a rape case from a year earlier, leaving lawmakers wondering what took so long to link the cases.
This month, positive news came from the TBI.
“We had 50 positions added to address the critical need in our forensics division; 47 of 50 of those positions have been filled; those other three are in process. Our turnaround times continue to improve which is what the goal was,” David Rausch said before Lee during budget hearings.
Raush explained the forensics division in charge of processing rape kits has expanded its team. According to Rausch, sexual assault kits took around 42 weeks. Four months ago, the department reported that time had decreased to 24 weeks. In November, the TBI reported the time decreased again down to 18 weeks.
When asked, Lee said the news is encouraging.
“That was an obvious immediate need. We all saw that the wait times were unacceptable, and we made some really quick internal budget adjustments to pay for that short-term to get dollars into that plan before they were actually appropriated through the budget,” said Lee. “It’s encouraging certainly; we need that to happen. We actually have wait times all across the state that need to be cut and those are the kind of investments we need to make, and I asked him to tell us what other targeted investments we need to make like that that will bring about substantive change.”
Advocates said the news is encouraging, but hope it spreads to other departments that handle sexual assault kits as well. As it stands, the Metro Nashville Police Department handles its own sexual assault kits instead of going through the TBI.
“With a realistic expectation, I think it would be great to have it done in four to six weeks,” McGuire said.
If you or someone you know needs help, the Sexual Assault Center encourages you to contact the Statewide 24-Hour Crisis & Support Line at 1-866-811-7473.