According to a 2015 report from the White House's Office of the Press Secretary, an estimated 400,000 rape kits across the country are sitting in storage, never having been processed. HBO documentary, I Am Evidence, examines the impact of these untested kits and the unresolved crimes attached to them. This weekend, Murray State University's Cinema International presents I Am Evidence with a special guest panel on Friday.
I Am Evidence, produced by Law and Order: SVU's Mariska Hargitay, is a documentary that concerns criminal justice, gender studies, law, psychology, and women's studies. I Am Evidence exposes the shocking number of untested rape kits in the United States. Despite the power of DNA to solve and prevent crimes, hundreds of thousands of kits containing potentially crucial DNA evidence languish untested in police evidence storage rooms across the country.
The documentary follows the stories of survivors who have waited years for their rape kits to be tested, as well as the law enforcement officials who are leading the charge to work through the back-log and pursue long-awaited justice in these cases. The film reveals the high cost of the lingering lassitude surrounding rape investigations in this country, and the positive affects of treating survivors with the respect they deserve and an opportunity for justice. I Am Evidence has won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Film, Rabirowitz-Grant Award for Social Justice, and the Special Jury Award for Impact in Filmmaking. The showing of this film is sponsored by the Kentucky chapter of the National Organization of Women, or NOW.
Marie Karlsson, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Murray State University, and Catie Bates Robertson, member of KY's new NOW chapter, visited Sounds Good to discuss the upcoming showing of the documentary and the epidemic it highlights. "I think what's important to know is that this is a really relevant social issue in our country, obviously, certainly in the state of Kentucky, and definitely on college campuses," says Karlsson. "The age group that goes to college is the age group more likely to be sexually assaulted."
According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), a rape kit is a "container that includes a checklist, materials, and instructions, along with envelopes and containers to package any specimens collected during the exam." Contents vary by state, but might include: bags and paper sheets for evidence collection, comb, documentation forms, swabs, and materials for blood samples. A sexual assault forensic exam includes going over medical history, head-to-toe examination, possible mandatory reporting, and follow up care. The exam is of an incredibly personal nature, but Karlsson insists they are incomparably important.
"You can identify assailants with these kits. This evidence affirms the account of the attack. You can identify serial offenders," Karlsson says. "[Some kits] tested in Detroit affected crime in 39 states. So this evidence that is collected, of a very personal nature, it's level of importance is much higher than people realize."
I Am Evidence showtimes are Thursday (January 31st), Friday (February 1st), and Saturday (February 2nd) at 7:30 p.m. in the Curris Center Theatre. On Friday night, there will be a guest panel to discuss the film, sexual assault, and the widespread backlog issue. The panel includes Marie Karlsson, Ph.D. and sociology professor, Jared Rosenberger, Ph.D.; Calloway County parole and probation officer, Shannon Farley; and sexual assault response team coordinator of Lotus (formerly PASAC), Staci Todd.
"We put together a panel that we hope can provide information from different aspects of this issue. Personally, I'm expecting it to be a difficult topic," says Karlsson. "People have a difficult time talking about sexual assault, but yet it's so important. I'm assuming that people have lots of opinions, some of them more informed than others, and we're just hoping we can create an atmosphere where we can talk about these things or raise some of the awareness that is needed related to this issue. And, hopefully, encourage people that are affected to speak up, report, and maybe seek services if they need help."
For more information on Cinema International or I Am Evidence, visit the Murray State website.
More information on backlogged rape kits in Kentucky can be found below: