Filmmakers Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir collaborate with HBO Documentary Films to expose some of the reasons rape arrests, prosecutions and convictions are at an all-time low in their latest documentary I Am Evidence.
In the United States, rape is in the category of violent crimes and yet today hundreds of rape cases go unreported. Shockingly, our country has one of the lowest arrests for rape crimes. On a national average, the arrest rate is about 20 percent. The prosecution rate is at a low four percent and conviction rates are nearly two percent.
The film I AM EVIDENCE calls attention to the shocking number of untested rape kits uncovered all across America.Thousands have been stock-piled. Hundreds of others destroyed before being tested all under the "watchful" eye of local government authorities and police departments. The tragedy is that behind each untested rape kit there is an unresolved sexual assault case with evidence that could put very bad people behind bars or vindicate survivors.
A rape victim undergoes extreme humiliation which is a crime in-and-of-itself but then to put them through a four-hour invasive physical test immediately after the crime is emotionally and psychologically damaging. After enduring horrific trauma, hope is given to the victims that their assailant will be found with the results of the rape kit. The victims painstakingly do their part; the authorities are summoned to take it to the next level. In reality that has been a lie until 2009.
Studies now show that perpetrators of sexual rape offend over and over and over again. Their offenses have neither been officially documented nor tracked. If there is no trail that leads authorities to these offenders, they cannot be caught and held accountable. These "serial offenders" are well aware that it is unlikely they will be brought to justice.
In 2009, over 11,000 untested rape kits were uncovered in an abandoned warehouse on Police property in Detroit, Michigan. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy found the discovery unbelievable and had to check out the evidence herself. Mortified, Prosecutor Worthy vowed to work hard until justice served each case. A monumental task! To date, the process is near completion, and, because of her intervention, over 780 suspected serial rapists have been identified. There have been 50 convictions based on the DNA results from the previous cold cases from untested kits.
This is a win for rape victims. Worthy says, "Testing every rape kit sends a clear and powerful message to survivors that they matter. Their case matters." She adds, "And, that there is a path to healing and justice."
I AM EVIDENCE features four survivors: Ericka, Helena, Amberly, and Danielle. Two of these survivors, living hundreds of miles apart were linked to the same assailant. Their lives matter as do their stories. Filmmakers Adlesic and Gandbhir feature prosecutors, investigators, advocates and journalists fighting on their behalf. They shine a light on the difficulties encountered and the excitement when connections to cases are made.
Our DNA is a powerful tool used to solve crimes in society. The sophistication of the rape kits potentially contains crucial evidence to convict serial rapists.
Producer Mariska Hargitay says, "I AM EVIDENCE gives us the opportunity to bring much-needed attention to one of the greatest failures and tragedies in this country's criminal justice system: the backlog of untested rape kits."
Hargitay has held the acting role of Detective Olivia Benson on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) for eighteen years. Honored to have accepted the role, Hargitay notes, "I was proud to be on a show that navigated stories few were talking about." She adds, "This gave me a platform to address these issues more openly." Eventually, Hargitay wanted to do more to help survivors heal and reclaim a sense of joy in their lives. She did this by setting up The Joyful Heart Foundation. It's mission is to transform society's response to sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, support survivors' healing and end this violence forever.
It was through the stories of survivors from vicious crimes that Hargitay learned about the mass amount of untested rape kits. In 2010, her researched showed that the city in which she was born and raised, Los Angeles, California, there were more that 12,000 untested kits documented. The sentiment shared by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Hargitay notes, "The rape kit backlog offers one of the clearest and most shocking demonstrations of how sexual assault victims are regarded in our society."
A passion rose to work hard raising awareness and funds to deal with the backlog of untested rape kits across our country. Hargitay says, "Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: "You matter. What happened to you matters. Your case matters."
Hargitay and Worthy testified before the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010. They continue to work with diligence on End the Backlog Campaign and to collaborate nationally with communities across America to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation. Their goal is that by 2010 all fifty states will have legislation in place.
I AM EVIDENCE follows stories of survivors who have waited years for their kits to be tested. Also, featured are law enforcement officials working tirelessly through our country's known backlog of untested kits. These people are passionate to see justice served. They go beyond-the-call of their official duties to pursue justice with the evidence found. Adlesic and Gandbhir share several reasons for the backlog. One in particular is the lack of funds for kits to be tested. It costs roughly $400 to test each rape kit. It's an involved progress. The cost and process should not be a deterrent for kits to sit in storage for decades but the fact remains that it's an issue. Hope is given when each rape kit tested because possibly and assailant will be found, tried and pay restitution for their crime(s). The testing of each kit also sends the message to each survivor. The non-verbal shows them the respect deserved and notes that their life matters. That their case matters!
Curious to know where your State is placed on the 'untested rape kit' spectrum?