The HBO documentary “I Am Evidence” about the nationwide discovery of untested rape kits premiered last night and I’m still an emotional mess, you guys. The film follows four survivors whose rape kits went untested for years because our justice system is broken. The film reveals the historic nature of the way we treat the crime of sexual assault in this country and the positive effects that occur when perpetrators are held accountable and survivors are given an opportunity for healing and justice.
There’s also a small part of me that finds comfort in someone – anyone – trying to make change. I’m kind of loving actress Mariska Hargitay right this very moment.
Rape and sexual assault is a subject that is so personal to me because I’m a victim. It’s also, sadly, an experience that isn’t my own because, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.
An American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. I feel physically ill just typing that statistic.
The documentary, however, touches on the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of rape kits that were discovered across the country that remain untested. The untested kits mean that rapists aren’t being arrested or convicted, many of them serial rapists. In my case, I didn’t even make it as far as having my kit stored and forgotten; I was told immediately by the Fulton County, Ohio prosecutor – a woman – that I wasn’t believable enough as a victim.
I still wake up at night amidst nightmares about my experience, now over 20 years ago. A few times over the years, I’ve woken myself up because I was crying in my sleep. I still deal with depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and trust and intimacy issues. I don’t know how to talk about it and I never sought help afterward. In fact, I don’t remember much of the days that followed.
I do remember sitting in a small room as the prosecutor reading aloud from my personal diary, my parents present. She read my personal accounts, recalling that I knew this boy and I worked with him. I wrote once that I thought he was cute. Apparently, this statement, and the fact that I “didn’t seem remorseful enough” was the basis for the county prosecutor’s decision not to bring the case to trial.
This boy, with physical force, took my virginity without so much as a slap on the wrist but I have to live with shame, guilt, and painfully unanswered questions for the rest of my life.
I still have a hard time putting that sentiment into words. Out of every 1000 rapes, 994 rapists will go free. After my experience trying to report the incident, I can see why. Victims are treated poorly and from what I can tell, the collection of evidence for a rape kit is both humiliating and impersonal. Why would anyone go through the hassle of reporting a rape when this is how victims are treated? It’s likely why two out of every three cases of sexual assault go unreported.
The nationwide issue with hundreds of thousands of rape kit backlogs is real and infuriating. There’s so much humiliation and physical and emotional pain that occurs just to collect evidence for the kit. It seems like an even bigger slap in the face when that pain and humiliation is for nothing because the evidence was ignored. You’re asked questions like “What were you wearing?” or “How much had you had to drink?” All questions that make the victim feel as though they’re at fault.
Helping a victim overcome the emotional obstacles that follow a sexual assault is sometimes an even greater challenge. I could tell my story hundreds of times, but it’s not just my story. It’s everyone’s story because there’s a better than good chance that you or someone you know has been the victim of a rape or sexual assault. And they’re struggling. It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened or whether they’re assailant was prosecuted; I guarantee they’re struggling in some way.
Sorry. My goal was not to sit here and spit statistics. We’re slapped in the face with those constantly. But there are real stories behind these statistics and sometimes it takes a blog post or an HBO documentary to remind us of this fact.
I’m sitting here trying to write with eyes welled with tears and I can’t type as fast is my brain is going. I hate sharing life when it’s this personal, but every damn time the statistics are in front of me, or I hear about another victim that is just trying to get justice or to get any law enforcement officer to take them seriously as a victim, it’s like a diarrhea of emotions.
I try to remember the name of the shitty county prosecutor that sent me home feeling helpless and embarrassed. Or I try to remember the last name of my assailant (I’m still not sure why it’s something I try to remember). If I’m being completely honest, I wonder why I didn’t kill him when I had the chance to plead temporary insanity and maybe get away with it.
I’m sick of this being a part of my life even 20 years later. I hate that I can still remember what his cologne smelled like and that every time I smell someone wearing it, I get so physically ill that I have to leave the room or the area or the whole damn building. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I found out that, had a rape kit been collected, it was still sitting in an abandoned warehouse being torn down like they were in Detroit, Michigan. I hate that there are so many stories like mine, some worse because they ended in death. Or, maybe they haven’t ended at all and someone like me is still waiting for any sort of justice.
Please check out the HBO documentary “I Am Evidence.”