Clark Hosts Film Screening of “I Am Evidence”

Male Violence and Misogyny Prevail in an Unaccountable Justice System

Elyse Wyatt, Opinions Editor

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In the United States, tens of thousands of rape kits sit on shelves in storage units, untested. Most of them have been there for several years, of not decades. On Wednesday, November 7th, Clark hosted a film screening of “I Am Evidence” in the Dana commons. The film, produced by Law and Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay, explores the human consequences of failing to properly investigate sex crimes.

Although the backlog pervades the entire country, the film focused primarily on Detroit, where more than 11,000 untested rape kits were found in an abandoned warehouse in 2009. According to the End the Backlog website, there are still 11,341 untested rape kits in Detroit. State reform has been enacted, but it has been limited.

The film followed the experiences of several rape survivors whose rape kits had been backlogged and who had a negative experience interacting with law enforcement following their assault. Some of the women were told explicitly by the police that nothing was going to happen – their kits were going to be put in storage, and there would not be any follow up. Others were not believed, and had their motives and their stories dissected from the moment they disclosed.

While addressing lawmakers, Hargitay made clear that by not testing their rape kits, police officers send victims the message that they don’t matter. Victims of rape are overwhelmingly women. Perpetrators of rape are overwhelmingly men. This is a matter of male violence being excused while women and girls are treated as second class citizens whose autonomy is not as important as their assailants freedom. Women are not taken seriously as victims, are frequently assumed to be lying, and violence against them is dismissed as less serious and worthy of attention than other kinds of violence. The words from male police officers and lawmakers about the legitimacy of the cases being filed were sickening, as they claimed that most of the time rape charges were actually instances of consensual sex, and that the backlog of untested kits was a discredited myth.

Many cops spoke of “righteous victims,” ones who had been raped by strangers and had weapons pulled on them. Despite attacks like these accounting for only 7% of rapes, the implication is that women who are raped by men they know must have done something to provoke or invite the assault. Queue the interrogation of the victim regarding her wardrobe and drinking habits.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the film is that because of the failure of some police officers to take their jobs seriously, several serial rapists remained free, resulting in countless additional rapes and even murders that could have been prevented through proper investigation and testing at the time of the initial report. Because so many rapists are serial rapists, whenever a rape report is not taken seriously, the safety of all women and girls is compromised. The message, therefore, is twofold: that rape victims are not important, and that women as a demographic are not important.

The End the Backlog movement has done an amazing job of reducing the number of kits in backlog and promoting state-level reform across the country to prevent a backlog from piling up again, but there is a long way to go. Tens of thousands of kits remain untested across the country. Additionally, even as kits are tested, finding the resources to investigate so many cases that are years if not decades old is no easy task.

The film ended on a note of hope, but not of closure. One of the survivors featured throughout the film finally got her day in court, twelve years later, only to have her assailant found “not guilty.” Reform is sweeping the nation as awareness of the backlog increases, but so far, Texas is the only state to have enacted comprehensive reform. For several states, including Massachusetts, the number of rape kits left sitting in backlogs in unknown.