Film screening, expert panel address police response to sexual assault

Photo shows five women on stage, four sit in chairs and another stands to moderate a panel discussion
Nicole DiSanto, Ilse Knecht, Rebecca Campbell, and Kym Worthy sit for a panel discussion moderated by Tina Panayides following a screening of the documentary "I Am Evidence" on Oct. 17.

The University of New England on Tuesday hosted a screening of the Emmy-award winning documentary “I Am Evidence” followed by an expert panel discussion about the ways law enforcement has hindered investigations of sexual assault and methods to rebuild trust between police and victims of sex crimes.

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of rape kits are left untested in police storage facilities each year. “I Am Evidence” explores this issue and examines the way that sexual assault cases have been historically processed in the United States.

The documentary is produced by acclaimed actor and activist Mariska Hargitay, founder and president of the Joyful Heart Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to end sexual and domestic abuse and transform society’s response to these issues.

Following the documentary screening, featured experts from the film, the Joyful Heart Foundation, and local judicial authorities convened in Arthur P. Girard Innovation Hall on UNE’s Portland Campus for the Health Sciences to hold a panel discussion. Panelists included:

  • Kym Worthy, J.D., Wayne County District Attorney
  • Rebecca Campbell, Ph.D., trauma expert and psychology professor at Michigan State University
  • Ilse Knecht, director of Policy and Advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation
  • Nicole DiSanto, Cuyahoga County Investigator
  • Tina Panayides, assistant district attorney for Cumberland County, who moderated the panel

In the panel, Rebecca Campbell discussed the underlying social science of trust and discussed methods for law enforcement to earn back the trust of victims whose kits were either mishandled or never tested.

“A fundamental trust was broken,” she remarked, saying law enforcement’s first step should be to admit wrongdoing and promise to do better. She said law enforcement should form special task forces to meet with and learn from victims as it works to change its culture.

“Being part of a special task force is another way a community keeps its care,” she said. “Eventually, hopefully, we can create change from within law enforcement agencies themselves, but it takes time to work through that.”

Polly Campbell, B.S., B.A., RN, clinical director of the Advanced Nursing Education Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (ANE-SANE) program in UNE's School of Nursing and Population Health, said that, for the past two years, the Subcommittee of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Advisory Board has been working with establishing a kit tracking system in Maine.

“Partnerships with the Joyful Heart Foundation and our panel experts will inform our work moving forward with Maine stakeholders,” she said, noting the subcommittee is engaging forensic nurses, survivors, advocates, crime lab personnel, police officers, prosecutors, judges, legislators, and others. “We are encouraged by the attendance at this event and look forward to meeting our goal of creating a sex crime kit tracking system in Maine.”

Kym Worthy, J.D.

Rebecca Campbell, Ph.D.

Ilse Knecht

Nicole DiSanto