Commercially sold, do-it-yourself sexual assault kits are gaining popularity on college campuses. The makers of these kits marketed them as an alternative to hospital-based sexual assault kits.
But health officials and some sexual assault advocacy groups say these tools will create more problems than they solve, and they warn people not to use them.
KUOW’s Natalie Newcomb took a look at these DIY sexual assault kits.
In a previous interview, the sorority leader told KUOW about a Brooklyn-based company called Leda Health and commercially sold “Early Evidence Collections.”
Taitim Raynor, president of the Kappa Delta chapter at the University of Washington, said her organization has teamed up with Leda Health to provide students at home with STD testing kits, morning-after pills, and at-home rape kits. Leda also provides 24/7 care teams that students can access after sexual assault.
After this clip, KUOW heard from listeners who raised concerns about Leda Health and home sexual assault groups in general.
One such listener is Shannon Bailey, director of the LiveWell Center for Advocacy, Training, and Education at the University of Washington. LiveWell provides health education and intervention services to students.
In an email to KUOW, Bailie said Leda Health had unfortunately flooded our Greek system and spread some misinformation about their ‘at home kits.’ About the legality of the groups, he said, “They are not legitimate evidence-gathering groups in any way.” “
According to Leda Health, the company is “built by survivors, for survivors” and aims to “empower survivors with additional resources.” The company’s website also states that its early evidence suite was “designed by survivors with the help of nurses, advocates, and lawyers to enable survivors to collect and store DNA, when access to conventional sexual assault forensic testing is not feasible or against the wishes of the survivors.”
Bailie, Leda Health, and two other KUOW experts who spoke to all agreed that household kits are not a substitute for hospital-delivered rape kits by sexual assault nurses (SANE nurses).
A Leda Health spokesperson described the kits administered during the SANE test as the “gold standard”. On its website, the company says, “Leda Health always encourages assault survivors to seek personal emergency care.” The company describes itself as being “here to support survivors when traditional systems don’t.”
Why does a victim of sexual assault not want to go to the hospital for an examination?
Leda Health told KUOW that during the immediate aftermath of sexual assault, “victims often have no desire for any interaction.” Lida Health said they might be feeling ashamed and might second-guess themselves by asking, “Did I really invite this? Did I drink too much? What was I wearing? Are you flirting with me too much?”
Leda Health also noted how DIY kits allow victims to collect samples without any human interaction.
Lida Health said the victim may not want to be touched or talk about the assault “while trying to address their experience,” even if they are dealing with medical staff. The company argues that SANE tests are intrusive in nature, and may traumatize victims of sexual assault again.
But not everyone sees it that way.
Terry Stewart is the SANE Program Coordinator at Harborview Medical Center. She said she does not agree that SANE tests are inherently invasive.
“If the nurse is well trained in the trauma-conscious approach, the test shouldn’t be painful,” Steward said in an email to KUOW. “This misconception that the exam is traumatic is what allows companies like Leda Health to make money off sexual assault victims.”
Stewart emphasized that her SANE nurses “don’t force patients to do anything on the test they don’t want to do – [victims] They are really responsible.”
Additionally, she noted that receiving a rape kit or going to the hospital alone does not lead to a police investigation – the victim would have to explicitly agree to this.
Key Differences Between SANE Tests and DIY Rape Screening Kits
The biggest difference between SANE rape kits and DIY rape kits is who collects the evidence: the trained professionals versus the victims themselves, respectively. If the victim uses a DIY kit, they become responsible for storing and preserving evidence, which adds another layer of complications.
Emily Petersen is a senior deputy attorney general for King County and deputy chief of the King County Sheriff’s Special Assault Unit. She said storing DIY evidence could cause problems for future victims.
“These things will always be issues at trial, whether it’s done the right way or not,” Petersen said.
On top of that, SANE nurses are also trained to look for injuries that are difficult for a victim to see or document, Petersen said. Nurses also have the tools to conduct toxicology reports, which can be important for case building.
Urine and blood sample collection can also be lost, for example, with the use of sexual assault kits in the home. Petersen added that the presence of alcohol or other substances may help establish that the victim was extremely incapable of consent at the time of the assault, which could be important evidence.
“You simply can’t replicate that at home,” she said.
Are DIY kits eligible for DNA comparison?
When it comes to investigating sexual assault cases, law enforcement agencies often rely on the FBI’s Built-in DNA Index System, a national DNA database that can help them identify perpetrators.
“This DNA profile can conflict with a profile from another, possibly unknown state,” Petersen said.
She added that the eligibility of the rape kit to be compared to the database depends on the amount of evidence collected. If there is very little DNA evidence collected, the kit cannot be compared to the database – regardless of whether it is a DIY kit or a SANE kit.
The eligibility of a sexual assault toolkit is important because it allows survivors the opportunity to identify the perpetrator. Petersen said that even if the victim was aware of her attacker, she might not know the perpetrator’s full identity.
“Can [the victim] only knows [the perpetrator’s] Street name, or maybe they met them on a dating app but they don’t know their true identity. “This way, DNA can be really important in confirming the identity of someone who has committed a sexual assault.”
There have been cases where, on a large scale, self-collected evidence has qualified for comparison in the pooled DNA index system.
For example, Petersen referred to a case in which a person “cleaned” in the home after being sexually assaulted using Q-tips. These Q-tip swabs were subsequently collected as evidence by law enforcement and tested for comparison. The sample yielded a DNA match.
“This case resulted in a successful trial and conviction of a serial rapist,” Petersen said. “So certainly, DNA profiles can be developed, often from evidence outside a hospital setting.”
However, Petersen said professionally performed SANE collections are likely to qualify for comparison because “the quality of evidence collection will be better performed in a hospital setting, because it is performed by a trained professional.”
Are DIY Rape Tools Admissible in Court?
Petersen said that if a criminal sexual assault case is brought to trial, the judge becomes the “guardian” of the evidence, deciding which evidence the jury is allowed to consider. The jury will then decide whether to include the evidence presented when making a final verdict.
So, it depends on a case by case basis.
Petersen said she is not aware of any cases in which a commercially sold rape kit has been admissible in court evidence. She said the situation was “yet to come” in her experience. Leda Health said there is no record of their early sets of evidence being admitted into court evidence.
But Petersen outlined some scenarios that are likely to end.
She said that if you collected your own evidence, it could weaken a criminal case by shifting the focus to the integrity of the evidence-gathering process.
“If we get to trial, instead of just questioning the victim about what happened to him or her, you’re going to have that witness suddenly question how their evidence was collected, how they stored the evidence, and who had access to the evidence.” “If medical professionals were allowed to do their jobs, it wouldn’t create those potential problems.”
All of this may lead to the sexual assault toolkit being discarded as evidence. But there are times when SANE rape kits are dismissed as evidence, too.
Petersen said that even if a SANE rape kit or DIY rape kit is thrown in court, that doesn’t mean the perpetrator will not be guilty. Conversely, an acceptable rape kit does not guarantee a guilty verdict.
Can universities prevent Greek organizations from distributing DIY rape kits?
According to Bailey, universities do not have the authority to tell the Greek system which companies are allowed to partner with them, or which products are allowed to distribute.
Bailey said officials at the University of Washington understand that students like Raynor are “very dedicated and passionate about these sexual assault issues. They just want to make a difference.”
For her part, Raynor said the decision to partner with Leda Health came after her discussion with her advisors and other sorority members.
If you have been sexually assaulted and need support, you can call the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (800-656-4673). There is also the option to chat online.
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