‘I AM EVIDENCE’ magnifies national problem of untested rape kits

Posted on Feb 9 2018 - 7:57am by Hannah Willis

This weekend, Oxford Film Festival is screening the nationally lauded documentary “I AM EVIDENCE.” Tracking four separate sexual assault cases across the nation, “I AM EVIDENCE” excels at magnifying a national problem. The issue at hand – ending the backlog of the thousands of untested rape kits across the nation.

Rape kits are used to collect forensic evidence – semen, saliva, hair and blood – from the body of someone who has been assaulted. The point of a kit is to use DNA from that evidence to help find and convict the rapist.

Kits can go untested if the results aren’t considered important by each respective police department or if it’s not prioritized at the lab it’s sent to. Even if the crime associated with a kit has already been solved, rape kits have repeatedly proven useful in convicting serial rapists.

“Ending the backlog is about bringing justice to survivors,” co-director Trish Adlesic said. “Mandating the swift testing of every sexual assault kit sends a powerful message to survivors that they, and their cases, matter. Each untested kit represents a missed opportunity to bring justice and healing to a survivor and increased safety to a community.”

“I AM EVIDENCE” also addresses how the justice system overall frequently fails sexual assault survivors.

“Research has shown that more often than any other crime, law enforcement frequently does not believe survivors or blames them – and that survivors withdraw from the criminal justice process because of how they are treated,” Adlesic said.

This documentary took three and a half years to create and it shines in the details, allowing the viewer to see each side of the issue. By tracing four individual women and their rape kits in four different cities, it quickly becomes clear that this is a national issue and therefore it has to be a national response.

“I AM EVIDENCE” is all at once devastating and inspiring. Its ability to spur others to action led to its selection at OFF.

“It is an important film that documents a non-partisan and outrageous situation,” said OFF head documentary programmer Mark Rabinowitz. “It should inspire men and women to action, regardless of political leanings.”

Fans of the TV show “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” will find a familiar face in Mariska Hargitay, the actor who’s played detective Olivia Benson for 19 years. Her experiences on the show led to her establishing the Joyful Heart Foundation, which serves sexual assault survivors and seeks to change society’s perception of sexual crimes. She is the producer of “I AM EVIDENCE.”

The geographical implications of Oxford were also taken into account when “I AM EVIDENCE” was being considered for the festival.

“Mississippi has some of the least-developed laws when it comes to the taking, testing and storing of rape kits, as well as sexual assault,” Rabinowitz said. “This film tends to spur citizens and politicians who see it into action, and it’s our hope that this will happen here. In a perfect world, every adult in this country would see this film.”

“I AM EVIDENCE” is being screened at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Malco Commons with a panel discussion to follow at 11:30. Tickets can be bought online at oxfordfilmfestival.com or at Malco Commons on Saturday morning. Each ticket is $12. For more information about the documentary and the rape kit backlog, visit iamevidence.com or endthebacklog.org.

For those unable to attend the screening this weekend, “I AM EVIDENCE” will premiere on HBO this April.