TBI working to clear backlog of sexual assault kits in the state

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee is dealing with a backlog on thousands of sexual assault kits.

“Tennessee is not the only state dealing with this issue,” explainedTennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh DeVine.

In fact, it’s an issue in many states, but here in Tennessee there is a backlog on sexual assault kits that numbers in the thousands.

“The figure was just about 9,000,” said DeVine. “That is a lot of sex assault kits that require analysis.”

Sex assault kits can link a suspect to a crime through DNA analysis and with the current backlog many have sat untested for years, but that soon could change.

“We went after grant money in September of 2015,” said DeVine. “We announced that the TBI had received about $1 million to process untested sexual assault kits.”

So, how long will it take to clear the backlog and what is taking so long?

Currently there are more than 2,000 sexual assault kits that still need to be tested. According to the TBI, more than 1,400 of the kits will be outsourced, while more than 800 others will be tested at TBI’s facility.

“You have to remember we are dealing with a number of jurisdictions across the state of Tennessee that have some issue,” said Devine. “So what we have done is reassessed the agencies that have untested sex assault kits. We are currently in the process of submitting to a private lab, then we anticipate to move into the Nashville cases perhaps in the next three months.”

When a Sex Assault Kit is submitted to TBI for analysis, the first process indicates whether it tests positive for the presence of bodily fluids. DNA analysis then follows in an effort to identify profiles that may be present.

The TBI said it is taking an aggressive approach and officials hope to eventually clear out the backlog across the state.

“It is a massive undertaking,” said DeVine. “You are talking about thousands of hours of work, millions of dollars, but ultimately if it could bring closure to a victim of a sex assault we want to do everything we can to make sure that happens as quickly as possible.”

Memphis currently has the largest backlog of sexual assault kits in the state. In Nashville, the TBI says there is a current backlog of 355 kits that need further testing.

The 355 kits TBI anticipates on sending for further analysis on behalf of the Metro Nashville Police Department are already in the midst of that process.

They’ve previously tested positive for further testing at an outside, private lab, so when they are submitted in the coming months, they will be sent directly for DNA analysis.

If the evidence tests positive during screening and a DNA profile can be developed, it will be entered into CODIS, a database of genetic profiles of convicted offenders, arrestees and unknowns, to check for potential matches.

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