The Athena Film Festival may have officially wrapped up, but we’re here for one more review! Bwogger Victoria Arancio had the opportunity to sit for this powerful documentary.
I have watched many different documentary films before, each attempting to evoke some emotion deep down inside of me, pushing me to anger or action. After viewing I Am Evidence, I felt emotions that were both complicated and deeply rooted in my unconscious understanding of society. As a woman, I think often about my odds: there’s a 33% chance that I will experience sexual assault. If I happen to beat these odds, one in every three of my friends will experience the pain that I saw unfold on screen. It hurt to see women—primarily women of color—at odds with a complicated and unfair criminal justice system. The women selected to tell their story, like countless others, were just a small fraction of a calculated decision made by police to leave thousands of rape kits forgotten, left to collect dust in storage rooms across the country. In light of the #MeToo Movement, being silenced is no longer an option: we must change the way that our law enforcement handles sexual assault, because it’s time.
America’s law enforcement system is inherently flawed, set up to under-serve and discriminate against poor minorities. I Am Evidence focused mainly on women of color who were left without answers in cities like Los Angeles, Detroit, and Cleveland. Produced by Mariska Hargitay from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, her debut documentary film directed by Trisha Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir, worked to expose the failure of our law enforcement system to take the claims of sexual assault victims seriously. Whether they were victim-blamed, dismissed, or ignored, the documentary focused on how these women were effected by the neglect of law enforcement, even years after their assaults. As each woman told their personal and painful story, the audience gasped audibly, especially when each victim was left to describe how the law enforcement system swept them under the rug.
It is clear in this documentary that America’s law enforcement system needs to prioritize processing sexual assault cases. The system, subjected to our nation’s discrimination, has time and time again allowed women to slip through the cracks, leaving many without closure and left to internalize their suffering. The system, seemingly unable to sympathize and listen to these countless stories of assault, has proven that it does not care enough about the victims of poor women of color in urban centers. Many police officers, some district attorneys, and lawyers in the documentary (who were almost all men) used dismissive or even blatantly sexist rhetoric when speaking with or about sexual assault victims, often skeptical of their claims. Using degrading terms like “heifer” or “hoe” to describe women in police reports was just the beginning of the neglectful treatment made by these people of power in the law enforcement system, and perhaps the worst neglect was allowing thousands of rape kits to fall victim to the statute of limitations. While some of the victims in the documentary saw justice served, many victims of sexual abuse and assault will never be heard, so many still silent, afraid to speak up because of the system’s failures.
I Am Evidence made me cry and, more importantly, furious. In some cities, women have a 5% chance of getting the justice they deserve: seeing their assaulter behind bars. Today, there are roughly 200,000 rape kits that have gone untested, leaving many women without answers. While action is being taken by some citizens to give these cases the time they deserve, with the limited resources and time that they have, it is imperative that we change the way we approach sexual assault cases in America. One of the central reasons as to why so many women don’t report sexual assault is because of the unwillingness of the law enforcement system to change and treat women with the respect they deserve. In 2018, we not only deserve equal treatment: we demand it.
At the end of the screening, Mariska Hargitay and Trisha Adlesic came up on stage to speak about their experiences shooting and producing the documentary. Hargitay spoke of her experience playing Olivia Benson on SVU and how that pushed her to make the documentary, in addition to founding the Joyful Heart Foundation that helps sexual assault victims. When speaking about her work, she got choked up, taking time to articulate her strong message: women deserve better. With I Am Evidence, it is important that women be heard, take action, and advocate for one another.
Image via Victoria Arancio