After viewing the World Premiere screening of the documentary I Am Evidence at Tribeca Film Festival, a few days later, I sat down with directors Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir to discuss the making of the film. For Part I of my interview, CLICK HERE. For my review of the film CLICK HERE.
Could you talk about how this is a pivotal moment and talk about where you think the direction with the testing will go. People will see the film and be impacted. One cannot help but be impacted. So the film is a step in the right direction.
Geeta: This is something we mentioned before. This is such a critical moment with the election that happened. It is a dark time in some ways for women, for people of color. The film encapsulates so many issues that right now, everyone needs to be motivated and on the forefront, fighting the battle for citizen’s rights. I am referring to sexism, systemic institutional racism, public safety, and basic moral issues. And right now, unfortunately, we have a president in charge who doesn’t necessarily support the different communities that really are trying to be heard in this film. So it feels very timely. I can’t think of a better time.
Trish: Yes. It’s interesting. As I sit here now, I don’t think anyone over 40 can’t say they haven’t have had some sort of violence inflicted on them whether it’s related to gender, discrimination in the workplace, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, sexual assault. So I must say that sitting here in 2017, I’m really fatigued for having to keep the fight going. We haven’t really made the progress we deserve with all the women who have gone before us from Betty Friedan to Gloria Steinem, to all our leaders. It’s so disheartening that we still have to fight. When are we going to move forward and have an Equal Rights Amendment? Also, people would say to me during the making of this, “Oh, you’re worrying too much. Hillary’s going to become president. She’ll have your back; she’ll have your back. You don’t have to worry about this”
The real problem with this is the deeply rooted cultural biases that are planted by people who are in control of this issue. We have to have required training in police academies across the country. The decision must be taken out of their hands, for example, so that they don’t get to determine the fate of a kit. Every kit must be tested and there must be proper funding in place to do something with the findings because it’s just not enough to test a kit. It has to be taken to the next level. And laws need to be created to test and protect the evidence in each kit. Those laws must be adhered to. If this occurs, I think we can make significant progress.
We need education as well. That’s where the film comes in. But it’s a difficult film in a lot of ways. First of all, it’s a film about women. That’s already a strike against you. Then you have a film about sexual assault. There’s a lot of shame and darkness around this issue. We wanted to make the film very survivor-centric so people could feel the experiences. And make it relatable to everyone. So this is the tool that hopefully will do that and get everyone in the room.
Do we need to get men on board, a lot of men on board?
Trish: Interesting. As a gut reaction, I asked a reporter that in Cleveland, Rachel Dissell, in a follow-up interview. She got very angry by that. She said, “I don’t understand why we need to actually get them on board. They should already be on board.”
Geeta: I think that the key thing is we cannot come from an apologist’s standpoint. That is really the key thing. This is an issue…that is said in the movie. If you have evidence of a crime and you do nothing with it, that in and of itself is a crime.
Trish: That’s a Polly Poskin (Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Violence), quote. She wrote a beautiful quote about this very thing. She said, “When you don’t utilize the evidence given to you, that in itself is a crime because it’s re-victimizing others. You’re letting a perpetrator run free.
Geeta: And I think in these times, if we have this information, this is obvious neglect. If you don’t stand on the side of women in this…
It’s criminal negligence. The UN has come out and stated that rape is equivalent to genocide. (CLICK ON ARTICLE)
Geeta: It’s used in war as a weapon of war, and is a war crime.
Trish: It has been a psychological weapon used against people in war.
Geeta: It’s been used as a weapon of war. And as a follow-up to that, Helena as one of the survivors says, “The system should be better than a criminal.” We need everyone on our side of course in this fight. But we cannot be concerned about specifically having to target men.
Trish: I think that any human being should be able to relate to this. I understand the intention of the question because it’s commonly asked…
I don’t believe that by the way. If we look at Kym Worthy’s example, she shows us how we must act. She led the fight in Detroit. She took a leadership role that others, including men, followed because they were ashamed.
Trish: I think that it has to go down to…this may sound trite, but, “When you see something, say something.” When we talk about needing to have informed consent, it’s clear. Sexual assault is sexual assault. It is not an invitation to have sex with someone. So we have a lack of education. And this environment of alcohol use can promote rape, and boys and men and women alike need to understand the boundaries around alcohol use.
Geeta: You’re absolutely right. Trish makes a very good point. I think this is what Mariska talked about in one of our Q and As. Young people are not educated about what the definition of consent means. They are not educated about sexual assault. We need to educate young men and boys as we need to educate young girls and women. That’s at the root of it, but as far as we’re concerned we think that anybody should be able to see this film.
Trish: It’s certainly not to say, it’s their fault if they’re not aware. But it’s helpful to know to be careful around alcohol use because alcohol can lead to situations that are compromised.
Geeta: There’s also sexism. I have two boys. I feel that it is our job as parents, as schools, as communities, in the church, wherever we go, to also focus on raising feminist boys. Part of the feminist training for boys is for them to understand sexual boundaries and the definition of assault and things like that because men and boys are also victimized.
Absolutely. I forgot the exact numbers…
Trish: 1 in 6 men and 1 in 4 women…
1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are raped on college campuses
Trish: I have a close family member who is a male and was assaulted as a teenager and it really tormented him. It was rough. I don’t think for any one of us that we are far from this issue.
I was amazed at a lot of the information I learned from the film. Was there any information that was just staggering to you?
Trish: Tell me what you learned as a viewer…I’m curious.
The number of rape kits that were allowed to molder on shelves. The fact that there are states and whole police departments that are not looking at them. The fact that they discount them. I found that to be egregious. The fact that New York is doing OK, now, and they have a law that all rape kits must be tested. But New York is only 1 of 8 states. Shouldn’t every state in the union have a law?
Trish: There are different types of legislation being put forth around this issue. There is progress happening. But they’re not the law that we’re looking for which is the requirement for all kits, current and backlogged to be tested and to be followed up on. There are varying forms of those laws being legislated. The movement is happening. I think a number of states now are looking at legislation to improve the conditions.
So that is important. But I remember our travels…we’ve gone to many states. We couldn’t put everything in the film. If we had more time we would have. But I remember being in Kentucky, going to jurisdiction after jurisdiction counting the kits. There are varying degrees. In Kentucky, once they know they are backlogged, they do an audit. The state auditor goes to the police departments and counts. Or they’ll give them a survey. And I remember being in one precinct in Covington, Kentucky, I believe it was. The auditor was asking, “So when you go into your data base and you look up a rape kit, how do you find the right number for your rape kit in your data base? Do you type in rape, sexual assault?” The woman said, “Other.”
Geeta: There wasn’t even a category for it.
Trish: So that to me was so stunning. She said we have a category for a bicycle, for a stolen bicycle. And I thought that gives you an indication of the organization around this.
Geeta: I have to say that everything was shocking to me. I would lie awake at night thinking about this issues. And I’m sure Trish felt the same. When you say was there one thing? There was one thing after another after another. I was in shock.
Trish: One thing I wanted to share with you is something that one of the survivors told us when they were investigating and the police came to her house. One of the officers pulled her aside and said to her. “Do you know why this happened to you?” She said, “Because the guy was a jerk?” And he said, “No. It’s because you don’t have a father.” Just to give you an indication of what that feels like.
Geeta: She was a teenager. It’s an indication of the police training.
I just have to say I was shocked when you featured the courtroom scene and the poor woman who was the rape victim was on the stand. The defense was implying that she was responsible for her rape, and she responded, “Well, a gun was being pointed at my head.”
Trish: It’s always like that. It’s standard procedure for Defense Attorneys for rape. They do that for every case. I sat in on many cases from East to West in this country. And every single case is conducted in exactly the same way by the defense. And sometimes it’s quite colorful and humiliating. What their intention is, is to trip the victim up and to scare the victim, to stifle the victim so that they won’t come across as reliable, as a reliable, credible witness.
Geeta: Ericka Murria spoke to that in the Q and A. She said that she was put on trial, too. She felt that basically, she had to pull out her underwear in front of the entire place. She felt that she was as much on trial as her perpetrator.
Any plans for International Woman’s Day for showing this film?
Trish: You say where to be and I’ll be there. We’re ready. We’re working toward our broadcast date with HBO. In the meantime we’re going to do many other film festivals. Social engagement campaigns. East and West, high and low, theatrical campaigns. We’ll do everything we can, and we’ll be there.
You might get in touch with Girl Be Heard! (CLICK HERE for website) It’s a theatrical organization. At one of their productions I first heard about untested rape kits; I had no idea. They are a youth organization in NYC. Lin Manuel Miranda fund-raised for them. They are a wonderful organization.
Geeta: Also, there is the website if anyone is interested in keeping up with this.
To see how your state is dealing with the backlog CLICK HERE.
Thanks, Geeta, Trish.