Connecticut’s attorney general is warning people about so-called “do-it-yourself rape kits.”
Creators say their goal is to help the estimated 77 percent of sexual assault victims who never come forward. However, legal experts say it may do more harm than good, and social workers say using the kits may keep survivors silent.
The MeToo sexual assault kit was created by a rape survivor, the other, called PRESERVEkit was co-founded by a retired FBI agent. She says most of the survivors she worked with did not get a sexual assault forensic medical exam when the crime occurred and lost valuable evidence critical to corroborating their allegations.
Both companies say their kits address the embarrassment and shame that prevents a majority of rape victims from reporting the crime. But some law enforcement experts believe the use of these at-home kits could permanently hinder a survivor's ability to seek justice.
“We don’t know what evidence it is that’s going to be that proves a sexual assault or can help with the prosecution of it,” said Kerry Dalling, a detective for the Fairfield Police Department.
Connecticut’s Attorney General William Tong questions whether the evidence collected by the kits is even admissible in court and has joined half a dozen other states in launching an investigation into both companies’ claims.
“I know this could be a real problem and I think we all have a sense that it could be a real problem,” Tong said during a press conference on Thursday.
In a statement, MeToo said “No rape kit-not even the government one-is automatically admissible in court. A judge determines admissibility in each instance, based on the underlying evidence.”
The company planned to launch a pilot program on college campuses.
“I think it’s beneficial to just make any option available for rape survivors and rape victims,” said Sophia Marder, a college student from Vernon. “It’s a horrible thing to experience, and I just think any option that is made available for them would be a great option.”
“I think that sounds a little sketchy,” said Bailey Zettergren of Durham. “I just think that for a situation like rape, that’s pretty serious, so I think hospitalization is probably what should happen.”
While the rape kits performed in a hospital are free, critics point out that the at-home kits sold on the internet don’t address the psychological needs of the victim who would be seen by councilors and sexual assault advocates in a medical setting. They fear victims will become even more isolated by not seeking important medical attention.
“Don’t look to do it alone, because alone can be very dangerous,” said Rep. Michelle Cook, (D – Torrington). “Please do not look at what’s online and think that that’s going to give you the solution and the resolve from something tragic that’s just happened to you.”
A victim who reports a sexual assault at a hospital or police station is walked through a free 12-step process that not only collects evidence but administers emergency contraception and medicine to prevent HIV and infection, something experts say is missing from these kits.
“We believe our survivors deserve better than these kits provide,” said the assistant state’s attorney out of Waterbury, Maureen Platt.
Both companies agree that going to the hospital is the best option, and don’t see their products as a deterrent but rather a help for those who won’t.
“The critics of the PRESERVEkit never state what they are doing to address the needs of the 77 percent of sexual assault survivors who don’t report the crime,” said PRESERVEkit.
The Preserve Kit sold online for two weeks before being pulled due to the backlash. The maker of the Me-Too kit said it still expects to launch its product next year.