Caitlin White
September 09, 2019 10:51 am

In the aftermath of an assault, survivors can go to a hospital and request a sexual assault forensic exam, during which medical professionals would create a rape kit. According to RAINN, a rape kit is a literal container that stores any DNA evidence from a survivor’s body, clothes, or personal belongings, as well as instructions and documentation forms. Now, the Brooklyn-based MeToo Kits company wants sexual assault survivors to use its at-home rape kits to collect their own forensic data—and specialists and legal professionals are warning people against it.

According to its website, the MeToo Kits company markets its affordability (no price has been stated), comfort for survivors (“Evidence collection is administered within the confines of the survivor’s chosen place of safety.”), and ease of use.

“It is universal and does not need any specialized training to be administered, unlike most of the standard DNA evidence retrieval kits for sexual assault survivors,” the website states.

However, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel disagrees across the board with MeToo Kits’ claims.

In a cease and desist letter to the company, Attorney General Nessel works to debunk many of the company’s assertions. Most importantly, that an at-home rape kit would hold up in court.

“With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator’s involvement with sexual assault,” the company’s website states.

Nessel believes that the statement is not just misleading, but purposefully and dangerously so.

While the MeToo Kits FAQ notes that it has a “multi-step plan” to follow the chain of custody, it doesn’t detail the plan to explain how. In fact, it even flat-out says that, “there is no guarantee that any of the evidence collected as a result of the use of this product will be admissible in court.” The FAQ notes that it will be lobbying for support from state and federal jurisdictions “in the future.”

The attorney general also takes issue with its affordability claims. As noted, we didn’t find any information about the cost for a MeToo at-home rape kit.

And, as Nessel points out, sexual assault forensic kits are free for survivors within 120 hours of assault. RAINN confirms that the Violence Against Women Act requires states to provide free rape kits in order to be eligible for “critical anti-crime grant funding.”

However, though the kit is technically free, a 2017 study found that privately insured women can pay close to $1,000 in health care administered post-rape, including follow-up visits and hospital stays. And while more needs to be done to help survivors with medical costs, it brings us to the next point: Visiting a hospital after sexual assault isn’t just to obtain a rape kit. Medical professionals can help with both physical and mental health in the aftermath of assault.

“Sexual assault can affect your physical health. You may have injuries and trauma related to the assaults that aren’t immediately visible,” RAINN writes on its website. “During an exam you may be able to access treatment for these injuries, receive preventative treatment for STIs, and obtain emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.”

An at-home rape kit could ultimately deter survivors from reaching out for help and support.

“Access to a rape crisis center or campus advocate is available when being examined in a hospital or medical center but is obviously not included with the Me Too Kit,” writes the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV) in a statement about the company.

Just as worrying? The MeToo Kits company states that its at-home kits will be a “deterrent for sexual assault”—again setting the stage to place responsibility and blame on survivors.

“You do not buy a fire alarm for the 364 days you do not have a fire, you buy it for the one day you do. We trust this to be a deterrent for sexual assault,” the FAQ states. “We also trust this to be so well received; that households across the world are buying these for themselves and loved ones, not only as a viable resource, but as a symbol of protection and hopeful deterrent to assault.”

It’s unclear how the company believes having an at-home rape kit will deter rapists. And it’s scary how a company that acts as an empowerment tool displays such a lack of understanding about sexual assault.

Madison Campbell, the CEO and founder of MeToo Kits, spoke to the Detriot Free Press about Nessel’s letter and the response. Campbell, who opens up about being sexually assaulted in college, says she was inspired by the #MeToo movement and she wanted to give survivors “another option.”

“I decided that there should be another option to give survivors this ability to capture that time-sensitive information,” she said to the Detroit Free Press.

Even with the best intentions, these at-home kits could be harmful. The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence advises against using MeToo kits, if and when they do become available for sale. Instead, if you are a sexual assault survivor and need help, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to speak to a trained counselor. You can also chat online with a counselor here. Both services are available 24/7.

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