SAVANNAH, GA – Dozens of activists and community members attended a documentary entitled “I Am Evidence” on Monday at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival.
The film, produced by activist and Law & Order SVU actress Mariska Hargitay, shined a light on the hundreds of thousands of rape kits that remain untested across the country.
“A lot of these cases have been serial in nature so when we don’t test, it’s a public safety issue. And we want people to be safe,” the film’s co-director Trish Adlesic told News 3.
She hopes the movie will raise attention about rape culture but also about the justice system’s process with rape kits.
“So we have to treat every case equally. There is something that occurred here, we’re going to investigate it like we would any other crime and not to judge it. You know, you’d never ask a robbery victim, ‘Why were you wearing that necklace,'” she asked.
The documentary follows four survivors in cities in Ohio, Detroit and Los Angeles, whose rape kits went untested for years. Community activists told News 3 it calls for a discussion of backlogged kits in our own community.
“If you were to ask a rape victim, they would acknowledge that living through rape is like a living death,” said Kesha Gibson-Carter, Director of the Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire. “In that kit, is hope for the survivor. In that kit, is possibility of healing for the survivor. In that kit, is essentially justice for the survivor.”
According to the Rape Crisis Center, more than 150 rapes have been reported in Savannah this year but, so far, there have only been 16 related arrests leading to just 10 convictions.
In January 2017, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that 10,314 kits were awaiting testing at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Kristy Edenfield, leader of Savannah Taking Action for Resistance, told News 3 that each kit represents a victim of sexual assault awaiting justice.
“Any woman or man or child who goes to the emergency room and has a rape exam kit tested deserves to have closure. They deserve to have that kit tested,” Edenfield said.
Georgia lawmakers passed legislation SB 304 requiring law enforcement agencies to send kits to the GBI within a month of collecting them. State Representative Scott Holcomb was one of the bill’s key advocates.
“We are now in the process of testing all the backlog kits and there’s thousands of those but that will be done the latest estimate, I received, is June 2019,” Holcomb said.
However, activists told News 3, they believe kits have just moved from one shelf to another.
“Rapists don’t just rape, they also murder and other crimes, as well, so that evidence can be tested and crossed in the CODUS system,” said Edenfield. Edenfield also told News 3 that by submitting only one piece of evidence for DNA testing, Georgia leaves a larger margin of error than other states who submit all of their evidence for testing.
With thousands of victims and survivors awaiting their test results, activists say they will never stop fighting for swifter and more efficient justice.
“I am a survivor of rape,” Paige Bullard told a crowd in a Savannah coffee shop on Monday night. Bullard was raped on the campus of Savannah State University in 2013. On October 25, she was awarded $10 million in a civil case, as WSAV reported, “against Savannah State and the Savannah State Foundation Real Estate Ventures, LLC. The suit claimed that the company, which runs the apartment complex where she was attacked, didn’t do enough to protect her.”
On Monday, Bullard read a prepared statement to media and the community after the viewing of “I Am Evidence.”
“My rape kit was on the shelf and untested and untouched for three months,” she said. Now she says she pledges to continue to to fight for justice.
“As my family and I continue to heal, we continue to be a voice for many victims who are reeling in silence,” she said. Bullard has a direct list of demands she asks local and national legislature and law enforcement put into action.
“I want people to understand and not judge victims. I want victims to be supported and believed.I want rapists to be arrested and put in jail,” she said.
Holcomb told WSAV thousands of kits continue to wait to be tested at the hands of the GBI. He said the next step for legislation is to work to create a more “compassionate” protocol for law enforcement officers when revealing kit results to survivors. Holcomb told WSAV the public needs to remember, behind every kit is a person with a name and story that deserved to be told.
For more information about “I Am Evidence,” click here.