You can get mad at the system that allowed these kits to pile up in evidence rooms and warehouses in cities across the United States. You might tear up listening to the testimony of woman after woman who got themselves to the hospital to get a rape kit, reported the sexual assault and then waited for years without justice.
The documentary from Geeta Gandbhir and Trish Adlesic’s doesn’t offer much comfort. Instead, it’s a call to action.
“Law & Order: SVU” star Mariska Hargitay produced “I Am Evidence” and opens the documentary with her own story. During her time playing Detective Olivia Benson on the NBC show, fans would often write to her with their stories of abuse.
The amount of letters numbered into dozens then eventually hundreds. What struck the actress was how many of the stories were never reported or even shared with family and friends. Inspired by the experience, she took her on-screen persona and channeled it into activism, which includes raising awareness about the backlog of rape kits.
Eventually, Hargitay steps aside, returning the documentary’s narrative to women survivors and the family members and officials involved with their cases. There are stories of cops and prosecutors trying to bring the perpetrators to justice – however delayed.
There are also combative or dismissive members of law enforcement who brush off concerns about backlogged rape kits.
The camera sits in on one trial where an attorney asks a victim, “what were you wearing?” Several police reports flash across the screen, demonstrating how officers diminished rape allegations because a woman was intoxicated or dressed a certain way.
In one instance, the documentary highlights the case of a serial rapist who attacked two women, Helena and Amberly, in different states. Had he been caught when Helena first stepped forward, he wouldn’t have been able to rape Amberly years later.
Not all of the stories connect neatly like Helena and Amberly’s. Ericka was raped on the night of her 21st birthday and had yet to tell her family over a decade later. She had given up on ever hearing back about her case. Her city, Detroit, had thousands of rape kits inappropriately stored in an old warehouse. Eventually, the city tested 10,000 rape kits and found over 800 serial rapists who were connected to crimes in 39 states.
“It’s not just a box. There’s a human being there,” Ericka says towards the end of the documentary.
When hearing the women’s testimonies, it’s difficult not to get angry at the city and state officials that did nothing for years, leaving hundreds of serial rapists on the streets.
The documentary leaves a haunting six-digit number on the screen of how many rape kits have yet to be tested: 200,000 and rising.