“I Am Evidence” documents the stories of sexual assault survivors. [Photo courtesy of iamevidencemovie.com]

Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center invites the public to learn about and discuss the topics of sexual assault and domestic violence at its monthly documentary screening at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30, at the Grand County Public Library. The film to be screened is “I Am Evidence.”

“I Am Evidence” examines how sexual assault crimes are addressed in the U.S., focusing on the nationwide backlog of untested rape kits. Also called sexual assault forensic exams, or sexual assault evidence kits, rape kits are packages of DNA and other types of evidence collected from a victim’s person after a rape or sexual assault has occurred.

In the U.S., thousands — potentially hundreds of thousands — of these evidence kits are shelved and untested for years, with no followup on the reported crimes. 

The film follows the stories of several survivors of sexual assault, and how they attempt to track their evidence kits through the criminal justice system. 

Elaina Budris is a VISTA volunteer and organized the documentary screening. She said Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center selected “I Am Evidence” for this month’s screening because it is contemporary and focuses on one of the areas of advocacy within the center’s mission. 

 “It’s really current, which is great,” Budris said. “The information that’s in it … is going to be very current and new, and I think that’s really important, that we stay up-to-date. It’s also talking about a topic that we haven’t really covered in the last few movies that we’ve shown. What this documentary is highlighting is the huge amount of untested rape kits in the United States, but it does this through a really wonderful, character-driven narrative.” 

Viewers are encouraged to stay after the film to participate in a discussion facilitated by Budris. She wants people to engage and connect what they learn from the documentary to their understanding of their community. 

“It’s always good to talk about how what we’re viewing is relevant to us as people (and) not just tugging on our heartstrings … but how it truly does affect us and our community members,” Budris said.

Tina Kelch is a registered nurse and has worked at Moab Regional Hospital (MRH) for 24 years. For the past 11 of those years, she has been a qualified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). Kelch says she does not have to complete sexual assault evidence kits often, but said that it does happen. 

Usually an assault victim will first go to the police or the emergency room, Kelch said.

The police or the hospital will reach out to a victim advocate at Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center, who is available to support the patient through the examination, if the patient wishes. Completed kits are turned over to law enforcement, either to the city’s police department or the county sheriff’s office, depending on which agency has jurisdiction over the case. From there, the evidence is transferred to the Utah Medical Examiner in Salt Lake City to be fully processed. 

According to reporting by the Salt Lake Tribune in 2014, there were approximately 2,700 untested rape kits in Utah at that time. Since then, the state has enacted laws and allocated money toward reducing that backlog, and new rape kits are being tested more promptly, which should make criminal investigations more effective.

According to the nonprofit RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network), DNA evidence increases the likelihood of prosecution in rape cases. 

Kelch is currently the only nurse at MRH qualified to conduct sexual assault examinations, but three other nurses at MRH have recently completed the week-long training to become SANEs and will soon be sharing Kelch’s duties.

Kelch wants victims of sexual assault to feel safe completing rape kits. 

“We’re here to provide for the patient and their needs,” Kelch said. “I just want women to feel like they’re not scared to come and be examined.” 

“I Am Evidence” explores a bleak topic, but Budris notes that each film Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center has shown contains positive elements. 

“None of the films we’ve shown are necessarily happy,” she said.

“I Am Evidence” is the fifth documentary the center has screened, and all of them have focused on domestic violence or sexual assault, but Budris added, “You do see the glimmers of hope, and the success stories and how all the hard work of advocates and crisis workers does pay off. Through the blood, sweat and tears there is light and there is hope.”

Seekhaven hosts screening of “I Am Evidence” documentary

“Through the blood, sweat and tears, there is light and there is hope.”

When: Thursday, Aug. 30, 6-8 p.m.

Where: Grand County Public Library, 257 E. Center St.

Cost: Free

Info: facebook.com/events/490167374746898/