FARGO — Cass County Assistant State’s Attorney Leah Viste said survivors of sexual assault already appear to be the ones on trial so at-home, do-it-yourself rape kits would put them further under the microscope.
At first blush, Viste said the MeToo Kits are problematic and she wouldn’t advise anyone to use the commercialized alternative for collecting forensic evidence.
The Brooklyn-based company launching the at-home kit faced backlash last week across the country for issues Viste pointed to, such as an unclear chain of custody and self-administered evidence not being admissible in court.
That is stated clearly on the company’s website: “There is no guarantee that any of the evidence collected as a result of the use of this product will be admissible in court.”
So why is this being marketed as an option?
Co-founder Madison Campbell, 23, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that she wanted to give survivors time and space to process a traumatic event.
But federal and state officials and advocacy groups have sounded the alarm, despite kits not being on the market yet. The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault issued a public warning, citing great concern over the kits that “are not a viable alternative to a forensic medical exam.”
“We are discouraged by this obvious attempt to monetize the #MeToo movement, particularly in such an irresponsible way with potential disastrous impacts on victims/survivors of sexual assault,” the coalition stated in a media release this week.
The DIY kits could also introduce substantial doubt and hearsay, Viste said, like who was actually swabbed and if someone is being set up. Viste said survivors have a tough time in court as it is, and these kits could make matters worse.
“I don’t ever see how a sexual assault survivor could do their own forensic kit, given the very specific nature of the evidence and delicacy of it,” she said. “There’s no one that could guarantee the protocol that was followed.”
Though she understands why survivors may not want to go to the hospital to conduct an exam amid a trauma, Viste said trained nurses can testify how evidence is collected and offer more help to the survivors.
Casey Zimmerman, a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) in Essentia Health’s emergency department, said evidence collected by SANE nurses “helps admissibility in court” by preserving evidence that remains within the legal chain of custody. This ensures the correct process is followed, evidence is stored properly and a kit cannot be tampered with, she said.
“Care in the emergency room versus an at-home rape kit ensures that the whole person is cared for from a head-to-toe examination, the opportunity — if the victim chooses — to make a statement to police and really, a more holistic approach with a patient advocate, resources and counseling options, after the assault.”
Zimmerman said services for sexual assault survivors are free and confidential. A patient advocate will also be present to offer a variety of resources available during and after the visit.
For immediate help, survivors can contact a 24-hour crisis hotline at 701-293-7273 or 800-344-7273.
More help is available through the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline at 800-656-4673.