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VOL. 129 | NO. 66 | Friday, April 04, 2014

Rape Survivors Go Public in Backlog Lawsuit

By Bill Dries

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The three rape victims who filed a federal lawsuit March 26 against city and county governments over the backlog of 12,000 untested rape kits deliberately wanted their real names used in the lawsuit, their attorney said Wednesday, April 2, as two of the three women talked with reporters about the case.

Two lawsuits over the Memphis rape kit backlog filed at the Odell Horton-Clifford Davis Federal Building take different approaches to a legal remedy for the backlog.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

“We debated for a while about whether or not they wanted to use their names,” said attorney Daniel O. Lofton. “They are using their names. It doesn’t really change the nature of what happened.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee by Meaghan Ybos, Madison Graves and Rachel Johnson, seeks compensatory damages from the city and county, and names the current and former district attorneys general and Memphis Police Department directors as defendants.

“We are Meaghan and we are Madison, and they can see us and they can see the pain in our eyes and hurt that we felt,” said Madison Graves, who was 12 years old when she was assaulted by Anthony Alliano in 2003. “I just think that with us coming forward as us instead of Jane Doe that it would make a bigger impact than if we were quietly going about it.”

“It’s harder to dehumanize us and discredit us. We’re right here,” said Ybos, who was 16 when Alliano attacked her in 2003. “We are victims of a serial rapist. … We were attacked under the same M.O., and regardless of all that, we are here years later asking some of these questions.”

Johnson, who was also raped by Alliano, does not live in Memphis and was not at the Wednesday press conference.

The questions raised in the lawsuit deal with why police didn’t process the rape kits taken from them after they were raped. Ybos and Graves say police investigators didn’t believe they were assaulted.

Alliano pleaded guilty last year to eight rapes and was sentenced to 178 years in prison.

A federal lawsuit filed by a Jane Doe rape victim in December and amended last month specifically alleges former Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin not only continued a policy of not processing the rape kits but later denied there was a backlog.

That lawsuit, which includes a claim for class-action status, seeks to have a court order that requires the backlog to be cleared and all rape kits to be processed in the future.

Lofton said his lawsuit is different in its approach.

“It focuses on the worst-case scenario for leaving a suspect at large. The class action talks about the organization,” he said. “They are related cases. From our standpoint, we don’t expect you to solve all crimes. We don’t expect you to have a perfect system. That’s fantasy. … If any case were going to be effectively prioritized, this one should have been one.”

The city’s first response to the Jane Doe lawsuit claims Memphis police and the city should have the discretion that does not require them to process every rape kit. The response is contrary to calls by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. outside court for all of the rape kits in the backlog to be processed and a system set up to test all future rape kits.

“There’s two positions,” Lofton said of the options in court. “One is that all kits need to be tested. The other is that they need to be organized. There needs to be an enforceable standard where people can be held accountable for when it’s taken, where it’s put, where its location is and just the number that are in the state’s custody. That’s kind of the compromise position, and we’re going with the compromise position.”

Another difference is that the three women name as defendants former and current District Attorneys General Bill Gibbons and Amy Weirich as well as former and current Memphis Police directors Larry Godwin and Toney Armstrong.

“We’ve named people in our lawsuit that can answer your question,” Ybos replied when asked if she believes they each specifically knew of the backlog.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, speaking Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., said Wharton and Armstrong are dealing with the backlog of an estimated 12,000 rape kits.

“Previous mayors and police directors, previous district attorney generals and sheriffs did not act,” he said. “Because they didn’t act, there were people that were victims of rape.”

Cohen’s remarks were in favor of the bill that would create a pool of federal funding for local governments with such backlogs. The city of Memphis hopes to secure $6 million of the funding, which is the estimated cost over five years of clearing the backlog and testing all of the kits that have been untested since the 1980s.

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