Why rape kits can take months to process in Tennessee

Some sexual assault victims are waiting a long time for rape test kit results to come back from the state.
Some sexual assault victims are waiting a long time for rape test kit results to come back from the state.
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 6:03 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 20, 2022 at 7:29 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Some sexual assault victims are waiting a long time for rape test kit results to come back from the State.

The wait time can take months, according to Catherine Oaks with the McNabb Center in Knoxville.

”Generally, here in East Tennessee, it’s an average of about eight months to get results from TBI on the DNA from the rape kit,” said Oaks. The processing time varies for different areas.

After nurses at the center conduct exams, local authorities send those rape or “sexual assault” tests to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for processing, according to Oaks.

Why is the processing taking so long? In short, the state needs more people to do the job, Keli McAlister with TBI said

She said in the most recent budget cycle, the TBI requested 40 special agent/forensic scientist positions to be added to the state’s forensic services division, which operates the state’s three crime laboratories, and they were granted funding for half of those positions.

McAlister also said they’re hoping for more money to hire more scientists next year.

From a judicial standpoint, Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen said the sooner the results from a sexual assault kit come back, the quicker cases can go to trial.

”Having actual DNA kits tested and having those results when you actually go to trial is critically important. Juries really expect in this day and age if we’re presenting a rape case to them that we will have evidence of that. We will have a rape kit and the results of that rape kit to present to them,” explained Allen.

In the meantime, there’s now a new way to keep an eye on the test results: an online tracking system called SAMS, or sexual assault management system.

”Once we get the sexual assault kit, we enter the information. There’s a number essentially tied to that kit, and we give that information to the victim. So this is an opportunity for the victim to now have a real-life time of where their kit is at in the process which is a huge deal compared to where it has been,” said Oaks.

The McNabb Center has a 24/7 Crisis line for those who are seeking help at 865-522-7273.