"Me Too" Rape Kits: Harmful, Negligent, and Irresponsible

Recently, a company advertising as the #MeToo Kits Company is making efforts to market a “Sexual Assault Evidence Kit For At-Home Use.” The kit boasts giving survivors alternatives to emergency room attention and standard evidence collection with a do-it-yourself approach. This product causes harm. It is reckless to promote this to survivors of trauma. If a victim of a sexual assault were to use this kit, it would likely ruin any chance to use the evidence in a criminal court case, cause that person to have unidentified injuries from not seeking health care, and create a false sense of empowerment and security in a product that has no safeguards or reliability. 

While the website does not make promises this evidence would be admissible in court, the public should know that it is highly unlikely this evidence would ever be admissible or used in court. Evidence (specifically DNA evidence in this instance) should be traced from the time the sample is taken to the analysis by an individual in a lab – a strong, solid line – creating a chain of custody. Clearly showing who had control of the evidence and when they had control of it creates evidence integrity. If a chain of custody gets muddied or confused, that can create problems with the credibility, weight, and admissibility of evidence. It is not compelling evidence and it is not a reliable chain to have a sexual assault survivor take samples and evidence from their own body. The company essentially is promoting that no training is needed for this at-home kit, advertising its own weakest point. If a survivor does want evidence to be taken from his or her person, then it should only be done by a neutral, trained professional who is familiar with collection and appropriate processing. Without this, it is improbable that the evidence would even be accepted or used by crime labs, law enforcement, or prosecuting offices. 

Even if criminal charges are not filed, professionals who interact with sexual assault survivors in medical settings are specially trained to be trauma-informed and sensitive to the nature of the work. Supporting avoidance of medical attention is dangerous to the health of survivors. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners/Forensic Nurse Examiners are professionals qualified not only to comfort and inform a sexual assault survivor through a traumatic time, but to properly collect evidence and provide critically needed medical care. Essential medical care after an assault can include sexually transmitted infection testing, pregnancy testing, prophylactic treatment to avoid contracting STIs or pregnancy, an over-all health assessment for other injuries, and other referrals as needed or requested.    

Suggesting that a perpetrator could be held accountable for a sexual assault using these kits is selling a false hope. The reality of a do-it-yourself approach to sexual assault evidence collection is that it makes justice less attainable, and the MeToo Kits Company is advertising unlikely outcomes at what is described as a “pocket-friendly” price. Survivors in South Carolina already have services available to them at no monetary cost when initiated through an emergency department. Encouragement to avoid medical attention could have lasting health effects, including medical conditions that worsen without appropriate treatment, costing survivors more down the road. While encouraging survivors to take back control is a positive goal, these kits do not provide that assurance in any readily visible manner.

If survivors are concerned about protecting their privacy and are unsure if they want to report a sexual assault to law enforcement, the Violence Against Women Act allows for anonymous reporting. A survivor can go to a local emergency room within 72 hours of the assault and request anonymous evidence collection. The survivor will receive the standard level of evidence collection and medical care. The evidence is stored for up to one year giving the survivor time to decide if they would like to report the assault to law enforcement.

There has been swift negative reaction to these kits from groups including campus advocates, medical professionals, and service providers. The bottom line is that knowledge and information are essential in deciding how to address sexual assault and kits like these only work against healthy outcomes. If you have questions about options for reporting a sexual assault, please call STSM’s 24-hour hotline at (803) 771-7273.

Marie Sazehn, Director of Advocacy