‘La Valiente’ initiates discussion of sexual violence at the border

The Richland community saw the first program of the “I am Evidence” series for this season on Sept. 24 and 25 in Sabine Hall titled “La Valiente: No Estas Solas … Violación y Violencia en la Frontera” (Brave Woman: You’re Not Alone ... Rape and Violence at the Border).

Equity Richland/Studies in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion partnered with Achieving Latino Academic Success (ALAS), the Black Student Association (BSA) and the Office of Student Life (OSL) to present the program  

“We chose to focus specifically on equity; to make sure that we’re going a step beyond, a step above equality, so that every student and every employee is actually being treated as they want to be treated, not just equally, but on a level that is tailored specifically to their needs,” said Amy Bell, history professor at Richland and co-program coordinator of Equity Richland.

“La Valiente” was the first session of a series based on the documentary, “I am Evidence,” a documentary focused on the nationwide rape kit backlog. A rape kit is all of the DNA evidence collected from the body of the victim of a sexual assault incident, male or female. 

Gilbert Castillo gives a presentation about assault on the border.

Gilbert Castillo gives a presentation about assault on the border.

“In the last five to 10 years, we have discovered that many of these rape kits, these boxes full of evidence, have been going on a shelf in a warehouse and nothing is ever done with them. It was discovered that we had more than 200,000 of them, at least, across the country sitting in warehouses that had never been tested or followed up on at all,” Bell said.

 “I am Evidence” follows the stories of different cities and efforts to begin clearing that backlog. In Detroit, this search led to the discovery of more than 800 serial rapists freely roaming the city, according to the film. Repeat offenders, people who have raped over and over again, have never been caught or punished for their crimes. 

In Texas, the Lavinia Masters Act went into effect in September, allowing a formal procedure to be put in place to clear the backlog of rape kits. There are at least 20,000 untested rape kits sitting in Texas warehouses. 

Bell said that this is not the entire focus of the series, however. She hopes the series will allow participants to have conversations throughout the year among different groups to discuss rape culture, sexual violence, toxic masculinity and gender issues.

“What I’ve asked the members of Equity Richland to do is actually choose a demographic group that they’re interested in working on. We’re going to have sessions throughout the year, one every couple of weeks, starting in October, that are tailored for the specific demographic groups that these members have chosen,” Bell said. 

The first session focused specifically on the violence faced by Latinas (Latin-American women) migrating into the United States. The film took the audience on a journey, which began in three different Central American countries; Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and the state of Chiapas in Mexico. Women from these places face unimaginable acts of violence, forcing them to seek refuge status in the U.S. in hopes of living a better life. ” 

The session also included a guest speaker, Elissa Polley, director of survivor advocacy at Traffick911, an organization that works to free youth from sex trafficking through prevention, identification and empowerment. She talked about the signs that help identify victims of abuse and informed the audience about various ways they could help survivors of physical or sexual abuse. 

Jamilah Williams, a Richland freshman, said listening to the stories of migrant women in the video clips shown at “La Valiente,” opened her eyes to the struggles Latina immigrants face when seeking asylum in the US.

“I think it’s very important that we are made aware of the trials faced by people who come from a different place because it helps us exercise more empathy,” Williams said. “I feel like the people who judge immigrants do so because they’re ignorant of the horrors that they faced back in their home countries, so sessions like these do a great job of educating everybody.”

Upcoming sessions throughout the year will focus on different demographic groups including the LGBTQ community, the African-American community and the Asian-American community. There will also be a session focusing on various religions and even one for people with disabilities.