Creators of DIY sexual assault kits respond to criticism from local advocates and experts

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A new product that allows sexual assault survivors to complete a rape evidence kit on their own is raising concerns with local advocates and experts.

The Me Too Kit, set to launch at the beginning of next year, was created by Madison Campbell who is a sexual assault survivor herself and currently based in Brooklyn, New York.

“Personally, after my sexual assault, I did not want to touch myself let alone allow anyone else to touch my body or console me,” said Campbell. “I don’t believe I’m alone. I think there’s plenty of other individuals out there that, from the statistics, share the same feelings that I’ve felt.”

Three years since her sexual assault, Campbell said she wanted to help other survivors who may choose not to get a forensic exam after their traumatic incident. As a result, she created the ‘Me Too Kit,’ set to launch at the beginning of next year.

“I do believe the number of unreported cases would go down as a result of this kit. I do believe, especially on college campuses, that we would be empowering survivors because in the moment after a sexual assault, all that you feel is that ‘I’ve lost control,'” said Campbell. “The main thing I’ve been trying to do is give power back, not only to women but to men too. Men often don’t report their sexual assaults either, because of the fact they’re embarrassed. They don’t want to admit something’s happened to them.”

Jane Mason, the co-founder of the PRESERVEkit has already launched her product on Amazon. In her bio on the kit’s website, Mason wrote that during her time as an FBI special agent and private investigator, she fought to get justice for many victims. This included a person referred to as ‘Julia’ who inspired her to create the kit.

Me Too Kit CEO Madison Campbell (right) and friend, Liesel (left)

Concerns about lack of resources and services

The Me Too Kit and PRESERVEkit has already been met with criticism from local sexual assault experts and advocates who worry that survivors may forego the professional forensic exam and opt for the do-it-yourself kit, now that it’s an option.

“People need to understand the reason that we, as forensic nurses, see survivors for an examination following a sexual assault is for healthcare. Rape is a healthcare issue. Secondary is evidence collection. If someone does an at-home kit on their own, then they won’t have that healthcare. They won’t receive medications. They won’t have a head-to-toe evaluation,” said Dr. Julie Valentine with Wasatch Forensic Nurses. “We collect evidence other than DNA or the swab.”

Campbell said her kit will provide information and resources such as the sexual assault hotline number and currently, she’s working on incorporating tele-health professionals.

Mason said her product focuses solely on evidence collection and provides a list of resources on their website who those who need additional assistance.

In a statement via e-mail to ABC4 News, Mason stated:

“First, we encourage survivors of sexual assault to report the crime to law enforcement and to get a SANE exam at a medical facility.  It is the optimal way to have evidence collected and address concerns such as injuries, trauma, pregnancy, and STIs.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 77 percent of sexual assault survivors do not report the crime to police.  It is this group of people that we believe would be benefited by using the PRESERVEkit. 

Without having trained professionals collect evidence, the survivor has two choices – collect the evidence themselves or do nothing.

We believe completing the PRESERVEkit provides survivors with the option to come forward if they choose to do so in the future with evidence to corroborate their allegations.”

PRESERVEkit

Concerns about cost

Campbell was not able to answer what the price of the Me Too Kit will be, but said, “it will be cheaper than the cost of an Uber ride to the hospital.” The PRESERVEkit is currently priced at $29.95, something that doesn’t sit well with Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

“When I thought about it, I understand the intent was good. But when you really think about it, it really is monetization and exploitation of trauma. Survivors are being asked to pay money for services that are free,” said Gill. “If you want to go out and raise money to fund local sexual assault nurse examiners, shelters, and public agencies, you will get a better return on investment.”

Campbell denies trying to profit off of the Me Too Kit.

“I think why this whole thing blew up is because I was reaching to universities to donate these kits so that no one would have to pay for them. I was taking it out of our own personal capital in order to donate these kits. So to say that we’re profiting off of the movement or we’re profiting off survivors of sexual assault is completely wrong,” said Campbell.

Mason pointed back to the group of survivors that don’t seek an exam after their assault.

“In general, SANE exams are free to survivors.  Each state has rules and restrictions. The emphasis here is that the SANE exam is free for those who obtain one.  We are focused on those who do not.  The 77 percent majority. We started the PRESERVEkit to help that 77 percent.  We are a small company that is self-funded with our savings.  We don’t have any investors.  There are many costs to develop and produce the product,” she wrote.

Me Too Kit

Concerns about admissible evidence

Weber County resident Danielle Tennant has been on both sides of an exam, as a sexual assault survivor and former forensic nurse. She expressed concern about how well evidence collected from an at-home kit would hold up in court.

“There’s a process forensic nurses go through when collecting evidence. When you just trust someone to do it at home by themselves, you don’t know if they’re doing it correctly and that could really affect their case,” she said.

With decades of legal experience under his belt, Gill said the risks of self-collected evidence would outweigh the advantages in a legal case.

“You’re not going to be able to create chain of custody. It’s probably not going to be admissible. What do you do with mixed samples, in terms of getting DNA profiles?” said Gill. “There’s a reason why we have public institutions and nonprofits that work on that. We have to make sure the evidence has scientific legitimacy in a way so that when we use it, we can hold the perpetrator accountable.”

Mason disagreed.

“It is irresponsible to say the evidence from the PRESERVEkit would not hold up in court. Every piece of evidence has its own chain of custody and relevance to the case. Victims hand over evidence that is admissible in court to law enforcement every day. If there are legal issues related to a case, the lawyers submit briefs to the court and the judge decides whether it is admissible,” she wrote.

Campbell said she hopes to work to federal prosecutors, defense lawyers, attorney generals, and legal experts before the launch of her product.

“I would be more than happy to meet with them so that by the time we launch, the evidence from our kit is 100 percent admissible. But at the same time, we need to understand that courts are usually the ones setting precedent over this,” she said.

Tackling trust between survivors and law enforcement and societal stigmas

Sexual assault survivor Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro said if evidence from a self-collection kit is dismissed in court, it could re-traumatize the survivor.

“I understand the appeal to communities who may distrust law enforcement or who may not know their rights, like sex workers or those experiencing homelessness. I know people who haven’t gotten rape kits done for those very reasons,” said Rodriguez-Cayro. “But our criminal justice system already often fails sexual assault survivors and I have no doubt that these at-home rape kits would be inadmissible in court, leading to even more re-traumatization by the system.”

Alondra Diaz, also a survivor, said she did not complete a rape kit following her assault for reasons similar to Campbell’s. But she believes the choice should be left up to the survivor.

“To survivors, please seek what feels best and empowering to you. The legal system is not kind to survivors especially without professionals helping guide you and evidence deemed appropriate by the system. At the end of the day, it’s the survivor’s choice. The education surrounding this topic allows more survivors to know about all of their options. Please never forget your healing.”

Gill said there’s a broader issue at hand that needs to be addressed on a state level.

“There are women who don’t feel safe coming forward. That really begs us to examine why there is this stigma that we’ve attached, as a culture and society, that re-victimizes survivors. We should be focused on breaking down those barriers instead,” he said.

“If someone reports they’ve been sexually assaulted, tell them you believe them. Tell them you’re there to help them,” said Dr. Valentine.

Experts and advocates said they want survivors to know that they have options and control every step of the way.

“They can choose to see us just for healthcare. They can choose to just receive medication. They can choose to have the evidence collected and then decide later to talk to law enforcement now or to not talk to law enforcement,” said Dr. Valentine. “I also want them to know that they can have an exam up to six days following a sexual assault, even if they’ve showered or bathed. We still can collect evidence and we can still provide healthcare.”

Sexual Assault: If you or someone you know needs help, call the Rape & Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1-888-421-1100.

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