AG Herring issues warning against do-it-yourself sexual assault kits

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Attorney General Mark Herring has issued a warning about a new product that purportedly offers sexual assault victims a way to perform their own forensic evidence collection.

Herring’s office issued a news release Tuesday saying the “MeToo Kit” might keep survivors of sexual violence from connecting with healthcare resources and support systems they need.

Crisis counsellors are also critical of the kits.

“Gaining control back after sexual assault is very important,” said Michelle Walters, Director of Crisis Services for the YWCA of South Hampton Roads based in Norfolk. “This is not how to do that.”

Walters and the counselors at the YWCA counseled more than 1900 sexual assault clients last year. She says the new Me Too rape kit is a very bad idea.

“It’s gonna set up false hope.”

The Me Too kit lets you collect DNA by swabbing areas of the body, and also spitting into a container, and then having those samples – and even articles of clothing – examined by law enforcement.

It’s supposed to favor privacy over being examined by a trained professional, but Herring says it will encourage people to bypass important services after their trauma.

“It’s really important that survivors get the health care and the medical treatment that they need, testing for infectious diseases or pregnancy.”

“That piece is huge,” Walters said, “That’s a lot of what happens that they do get that testing done, and they do get meds for STDs and they get the HIV test.”

Walters says there’s been so groundswell of demand from rape survivors for this type of product.

But marketing has already begun – and Herring says the company is targeting college students.

“I think it’s important to warn Virginians.”

Herring said evidence collected by kits like this could be ruled inadmissible in court due to “chain of custody issues.”

Mark Herring
File photo of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

According to the product’s website, it is designed to give survivors the ability to collect evidence “in a setting and timing of their choice.”

The MeToo Kit is not on the market, but the website asks visitors to join a waiting list by providing their name and email address. There are no prices for the kits listed on the website.

Herring is the latest attorney general to object to these kits. The Associated Press reported last month Michigan’s attorney general demanded that the product not be sold in the state.

Herring has been working to clear Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits over the last four years — and to develop a new statewide PERK Tracking System that’s used by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, local agencies and hospitals.

According to the DFS, PERKs — or Physical Evidence Recovery Kits — are used to collect biological evidence from victims. A new law passed in 2016 created a “comprehensive procedure” for the collection, storage, and analysis of PERKs in Virginia.

In a Tuesday morning interview with WAVY, Herring said the backlog of state rape kits is all but erased, and the “last of the kits have been delivered to a lab for testing and they are almost complete.”

The website for the MeToo Kit claims the company has a “multi-step plan” to make sure the kits retain chain of custody, but that there is “no guarantee” the evidence will be admissible. The company says they will be “lobbying for support in the future” from “federal and state jurisdictions.”

Herring said in a statement Tuesday, “A true survivor-centered, trauma-informed response to sexual violence includes not just evidence collection, but also examination by medical professionals, including specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, treatment for injuries, screenings for pregnancy or infections, and mental health resources and support that promotes healing and recovery.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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