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.