Trial, cost concerns about at-home rape kits

Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Prosecutors and victim advocates are coming out against a product that markets itself as the first ever sexual assault evidence collection kit for at-home use.

The main concerns are that the evidence won’t stand up in court and that the company is charging for a service that is offered for free.

The kit is called “MeToo” after the #MeToo movement on social media that sexual assault survivors use to share their stories. Kits are not for sale yet but Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is already working to stop them from going into use. She blasted the company for trying to make money off of victims and threatened legal action.

The Brooklyn, New York-based company says it’s working with the attorney general to make changes.

MeToo Kit says it was founded on the principle that survivors should be able to “take back control.” 

“Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice,” its website says.

But Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said that in terms of evidence, that’s a problem.

“Somewhat scary,” he said.

For evidence to be admitted at trial, it must be trustworthy.

“There’s a lot of areas where that can fail when you are doing something yourself,” Becker said.

When asked if a kit could be used at trial, he said only that “it could be.”

“I mean, it’s not impossible,” he said, warning, “There is a whole host of issues in terms of where it’s sent (for testing), how it’s sent.”

The MeToo Kit site does not specify what lab the kits are sent to. It simply says you “swab,” “spit” and “seal,” adding that it provides “security safeguards and implement controls.”

And it states outright on its website that “there is no guarantee that any of the evidence collected as a result of the use of this product will be admissible in court.”

The company did not answer any specific questions from News 8, only saying that it is “working to develop a product to support survivors of sexual assault who would not otherwise report to law enforcement and medical professionals.”

“I don’t want to question anyone’s motive, but there is no profit to be had in this,” YWCA of West Central Michigan CEO Charisse Mitchell said.

The YWCA offers free kits, examinations, counseling and even advocates to go with survivors to court appearances. Its facility in downtown Grand Rapids is designed for privacy and security.

“Starting at the entrance,” Mitchell explained. 

There’s a private entryway for survivors that leads to locked rooms for counseling and exams, and then a shower with a free change of clothes. The kits used at the YWCA were designed with the help of law enforcement and prosecutors with safeguards that will stand up in court.

A sample rape kit at the YWCA of West Central Michigan.

“This is the same kit used in every nurse in the state,” Mitchell said.

MeToo Kit said Tuesday that it still plans to move forward with sales. Its website does not list a cost for the kit.

YWCA of West Central Michigan has a hotline for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence that can be reached any time at 616.454.9922.

The state also has a hotline that offers support and resources: 1.855.VOICES4 (864.2374).

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