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Why the Attorney General is warning against at-home sexual assault kits

Posted at 7:02 PM, Sep 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-10 20:06:49-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- In recent weeks, at-home PERK kits, commonly called rape kits, have become available for purchase online. Virginia's Attorney General is joining law enforcement and advocacy groups nationwide in warning against using the new products, but a co-founder of one product says at-home kits provide survivors an important option.

PERK kits are used to collect biological evidence from a person who has been sexually assaulted.  Traditionally, health care professionals administer them at medical or other health care facilities and give the evidence to police.

At least two companies, "Preserve Kit" and "Me Too Kit," have marketed products online.  Only "Preserve Kit" is currently available to purchase for $29.95 on Amazon.

"Evidence collection is administered within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety. MeToo also provides additional means of support via our mobile application, eliminating the guesswork out of the documentation process, and allowing the survivor to focus on what matters most: their recovery," Me Too Kit's website read.

Law enforcement and advocacy have raised the alarm that evidence collected by an individual, without a clear chain of custody, would easily be questioned by defense attorneys in a court of law.

Moreover, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring worries survivors would not receive the proper medical care and emotional support Virginia healthcare practitioners and law enforcement are trained to provide.

"These products could be counterproductive and harmful," Herring said.   "We really want survivors in Virginia to know and feel comfortable, that if they come forward, they are going to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, and the support they need and deserve."

Herring said experts have already identified "serious shortcomings" in at-home PERK kits and urged survivors to contact sexual violence advocates, health care professionals, or trained law enforcement.

The products have been marketed to multiple colleges and universities in Virginia, Herring's office said.

Meanwhile, the co-founder of "Me Too Kit" said their product is designed to give survivors of sexual violence an option following the most traumatic moment of their life.

Madison Campbell is her early 20's and said she was sexually assaulted a few years ago while in college.  She helped develop the kit to help other survivors, pointing to data that shows a large number of sexual assault cases go unreported.

"We would never try to give false hope to any individual,"  Campbell said.  "I was incredibly scared to have anyone touch my body, and I know that I'm not alone. I know there are other individuals out there, and those are the individuals we want to empower, put on a pedestal and make sure they are protected during this most traumatic time of their lives."

Conversations between "Me Too Kit" and state law enforcement officials remain ongoing, and Campbell said they will not bring the product to market until it is clear it would help survivors bring their attacker to justice in a court of law.

If you or someone you know needs help call the Virginia Family Violence & Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-838-8238 or the LGBTQ Partner Abuse and Sexual Assault Helpline, 1-800-356-6998. If you are not able to call you can text, 804-793-9999. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

More resources are available here.