I am evidence – real sexual assault cases are lagging

One of the longest running shows on American television is “Law and Order – Special Victims Unit” starring Mariska Hargitay and a terrific ensemble cast. The SVU investigates and hopefully solves heinous sex crimes in New York City. Unfortunately, real life SVUs are woefully understaffed, underfunded and behind.

It is not ironic that Hargitay has co-produced with co-director Trish Adlesic a documentary film called “I am evidence,” which focuses on efforts to remedy a US backlog of over 200,000 untested rape kits. That is not a misprint. The film is co-directed by Geeta Gandbhir and focuses on efforts in Detroit, Cleveland and Los Angeles.

Only eight states require the testing of every rape kit – Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. This boggles my mind as women who have been sexually assaulted and beaten went to great pains to be tested after being raped.

Two of the focal points of the film are Wayne County (Detroit) Prosecutor Kym Worthy and a reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland named Rachel Dissell, who each brought attention to the backlogs in their two cities. With a spotlight on these travesties, gained funding and oversight, they are making huge headway in their local problems. But, it is more than local as many of the DNA samples have revealed serial rapists and repeat offenders  across state lines.

Many of these untested kits are ten years and more overdue. It also became clear by not testing these kits, more woman were raped. One rapist was a truck driver who raped many women across the country for years. And, in one chilling example, one serial rapist would abduct, hold, abuse and kill his victims. When arrested, the police found multiple women’s bodies in his home. One of the victims was able to escape an earlier abduction.

Letting the previous paragraph sink in will likely make you ill. The scarcity of resources is appalling. It also led to a prioritization of cases often based on race and notoriety of the victim. Worthy noted rape kits should be tracked, since these victims went to a lot of effort and remained unclean for hours as they were subject to tissue and semen sampling and verbal examination. One women said she was made to feel guilty as she answered questions – why were you there at that time, eg?

Worthy noted “If you can track a package when you order something from Amazon, then certainly you should be able to track a victim’s rape kit through the criminal justice system.” Is that too much to ask?

The good news is the progress that is being made. It is never too late and it goes without saying lives are being saved, some dignity restored to the victims and future rapes can be avoided. Please download “I am evidence,” and watch this important film. We owe it to the current and potential victims. And, as one oversight committee member noted, the success rate on testing the kits made every dime well spent as the DNA data leads to convictions and takes a rapist off the streets.


11 thoughts on “I am evidence – real sexual assault cases are lagging

  1. Very good post, Keith! I had no idea … I suppose I just assumed that all rape kits were tested and the perpetrator actively pursued. It is good to know that some progress is being made, but too little, too slow. Why is it not a requirement in the other 42 states to test every kit? I have always heard that one of the biggest obstacles to women reporting rape is that they are often made to feel like a criminal, or at the very least, like perhaps they brought it upon themselves. A sad statement of our society, isn’t it?

    • Jill, this was stunning to me. One thing I should have mentioned is these victims felt they did not matter to the police. The pursuit of the perpetrater improved their self worth.

      As for being made to feel like a criminal is not right either. The victims were made to feel like it was their fault.


      • The police, it has been my experience, often are experts at making us feel that we do not matter. Women, blacks … while I have never been raped, thankfully, I had my bank account hacked a few years back, and the deputy who came to my home was rude and demeaning, making sure he kept his hand on his pistol, and accusing my granddaughter, who was only around 14 at the time, of perhaps being the perpetrator of the crime. I was so incensed that I told him to leave immediately. I cannot imagine how much more horrible it would be to have been raped, then have the police treat you like a second-class citizen, or like you asked for it. Sigh. The very people we should be able to trust with out lives …

      • Jill, that is a terrible situation to which you were exposed. I think it is a tough job, but police have to guard against becoming jaundiced. To me, the broader picture is we decided to defund important services – social workers, police, forensics, judges, etc. and we have people doing these jobs as best they can, but are overwhelmed. Then, the problem gets highlighted and the people who helped create that environment say “how could you let this happen?”

        Right now, we have a major issue with overcrowded prisons and too few correction officers. Just in NC/SC in the past eighteen months, there have been officer deaths, riots, contraband issues, etc. This is traceable too poor funding and too many incarcerations. Keith

      • You are so right, and I would add teachers to that list. Having served on the school board many decades ago, I made many friends who are or were teachers, and they are overwhelmed, also, and often have to pay for the students supplies from their own pockets.

        Sadly, I don’t see an end in sight to all of this. Well, perhaps if the November mid-terms go the way we are all hoping, then we may start to turn some things around, but I think it will be an uphill battle.

      • Jill, I trace a lot of blind intensity to cut severely cut revenue with the Grover Norquist pledge that GOPers must sign or lose support. He wants to drown government in the bathtub after shrinking it. Yet, that runs counter to what truly made America great, a blend of private and public money to do big things. So to balance state budgets, teacher, police and firefighter pay is held constant, teacher assistants, psychologists, social workers, etc. are cut, roads crumble and so on. Then, something happens and these folks say how did you let that happen? These teacher walkouts are not a surprise. Keith

      • I have learned something from you today, for I had to Google Grover Norquist. I was not aware of that pledge, but it explains a lot. Ludicrous … our representatives have completely forgotten that it is 100% of the people they answer to, not merely the 1% at the top of Wall Street. Cut the revenue dramatically, then cut services to middle & lower economic families in order to partly offset the revenue cuts. As a CPA, I find this makes no sense. If you and I managed our household budgets in that manner, we would be in the poor house for sure!

      • Jill, Norquist has notoriety, but does stay behind the scenes more. If a GOP candidate did not sign his pledge, he would actively campaign against him or her. This is a key reason all debt reduction discussions get shut down. We cannot solve our debt problem with just cuts, so we also have to increase revenue. This is why I found the recent tax change so alarming as we will eventually have to add back taxes and more to recapture that lost revenue. Keith

  2. Note to Readers: In Charlotte, there is a terrific non-profit called SafeAlliance. In addition to providing immediate shelter and support to domestic violence victims, another service is provide a helping hand to rape victims. They provide emotional support and a change of clothes and hygiene products for rape victims while they are doing the rape kits. Often, their clothes are ripped or taken into evidence. Plus, some may not want to or have someone they can turn to for help. The fact that in too many places, rape kits are backlogged is shameful.

  3. Dear Keith,

    I noticed that Florida is not on that list of eight states that requires the testing of ALL rape kits. That means that serial rapists are getting away with committing more rapes with impunity. This is putting women’s lives and well being at risk.

    Saving monies while rapists run free because the state would have to spend more monies is unconscionable.

    Hugs, Gronda

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