You may know Mariska Hargitay best for her portrayal of Detective Olivia Benson in the hit TV series Law and Order: SVU. But soon, you may also know her for her upcoming documentary.
On SVU, Hargitay’s character is a determined, empathetic detective known for standing up for the victims in her cases. In one episode, Benson counsels a woman who has been stalked and raped for years by the same attacker. Part of the reason this victim’s attacker was still on the streets? The massive rape kit backlog. At the conclusion of the episode, Benson becomes involved in trying to help clear the backlog.
“When tested, rape kit evidence identifies unknown assailants, confirms the presence of a known suspect, affirms the survivor’s account of the attack, connects the suspect to other unsolved crimes, and exonerates innocent suspects.”
“There are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in police and crime-lab storage facilities. Every year, thousands of individuals take the courageous step of reporting their rape to the police. … The evidence is then collected in a ‘Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit’ — a rape kit. … And yet, hundreds of thousands of times, a decision is made not to process the evidence. Too difficult to prosecute, too murky, too expensive — not a priority.
“When you don’t test a rape kit, it sends the message that’s it’s not a serious crime, and I’m beyond outraged.”
This week, Hargitay revealed that she’s working on a documentary about this backlog of untested kits. She joins the efforts of other activists nationwide to help bring light to this issue. One such activist is Detroit prosecutor Kym Worthy, who fought for funding to clear Detroit’s thousands of untested rape kits. So far, 600 of the kits have been tested and investigators have discovered evidence of 21 serial rapists, including one man who killed three women while his untested rape kit sat on the shelf. However, funds are short and while the kits are being tested, Worthy and her fellow advocates still need donations to continue this important process. But hopefully, their efforts will lead to justice for hundreds if not thousands of women. .
Meanwhile, Hargitay’s film has found a producer and is vetting possible directors. Hopefully with the release of this documentary, the issue of untested rape kits will be brought into the public consciousness and more funds can be directed to bringing justice to survivors of rape.