I Am Evidence is a documentary about the epidemic of untested rape kits in the United States. The practice was largely unknown to the majority of the population until fairly recently, and this film played a significant role in getting the word out, which led to laws being changed in many states. This documentary is the project of Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay (executive producer), who has played Olivia Benson on the hit show about sexual assault cases for 20 years. The actress appears in the film herself, a move that brought the film attention from her fans, many of whom have been inspired to become activists, demanding that police departments #endthebacklog of untested kits.
Four survivors from Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Fairfield, Ohio, whose kits had long been sitting in warehouses, are profiled in I Am Evidence. The directors chose to highlight the particularly dire situation in Detroit where many kits have been lost or destroyed. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, a major figure in the film, has made it her mission to change the laws, demanding that kits be tested in a timely fashion. She importantly links the neglect of the kits to the cultural fact that, “Nobody gives a damn about women in this country.” The film goes into detail about the intimate process of collecting the evidence for a kit, and this reiterates the shame of having survivors go through this invasive process only to be ignored. The directors are deliberate in demonstrating how law enforcement officials often judged victims based on dress, economic background, and race. In Detroit, only the kits of white women or politically connected black women were typically processed.
I Am Evidence illustrates how Worthy’s work benefited not only her state but states across the country that followed her initiative. A high point of the film occurs when law enforcement becomes aware of the potential of the kits. Once testing began, the forensic evidence not only helped them to catch rapists in specific cases but also to solve a slew of other crimes. The directorial decision to show the survivors with their children as a backdrop to the narrative makes the film especially human.
I Am Evidence is available to stream on HBO. Follow the film on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the film’s website. To learn more about #endthebacklog, follow End the Backlog and the Joyful Heart Foundation.
Jennifer Zale graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with a PhD in Communication and Culture (Film and Media) in 2017. She is currently an independent scholar, freelancer and a jury chair of the Blowup Film Fest in Chicago. Jennifer is also a Crisis Counselor/Medical Advocate and Associate Board Member at Resilience Chicago, the city’s largest crisis center serving survivors of sexual assault and violence.