State: Don’t buy ‘MeToo’ rape kit

  • The MeToo Kit.

HILO — Hawaii’s attorney general added her voice to the growing number of state attorneys general speaking out against the MeToo rape evidence collection kit.

Attorney General Clare Connors is urging the public and organizations such as universities and other educational institutions not to purchase or distribute MeToo Kits, which are being marketed as the first at-home rape kits.

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According to the MeToo Kit Company website, these kits will be distributed to select universities and eventually offered for sale to individuals by the New York-based company. The company claims the kits are designed for sexual assault victims to self-collect scientific evidence outside of a medical facility or other controlled environment.

“What this company fails to tell you is that in Hawaii, a forensic exam is provided at no cost to sexual assault victims by a health care professional, with advocates who will help the victim understand the exam and criminal justice process,” Connors said in a statement Thursday.

In a video on the company’s website, the MeToo Kit’s 23-year-old founder, Madison Campbell, claims a background in epidemiology and previous Epstein-Barr virus research. She called the MeToo Kit “the first commercially available kit for collecting your evidence after an assault or rape, without the authorities and without hospital intervention.”

Lorraine Davis, chief operating officer of the YWCA of Hawaii Island, said her organization’s Sexual Assault Support Services provides the sexual assault nurse-examiners who administer legally recognized rape kits to victims of sexual assault.

“We’re collecting evidence, and it’s done under … accepted protocols by the state,” Davis said. “And the second part to it is that it’s done under strict chain of custody, so that if it’s going to get challenged in court, it’s not going to be challenged because of chain of custody.”

Davis also pointed to “medical considerations” that make the do-it-yourself kits inadvisable.

“We urge victims to seek medical care because you don’t know what you’re encountering, whether it’s (a sexually transmitted disease) or an unwanted pregnancy,” she said. “Rapes can be very violent with strangulation involved, where, quite honestly, somebody can drop dead from an injury three or four days afterwards.”

“The intent of the MeToo kits, from what I understand, is an opportunity for (victims) to get the evidence without having to report to the police,” Davis added. “And they can hold on to it until they’re ready to report. Because of late reporting, there are women that when they do report, there is nothing we can collect other than their words. So I understand the intent behind it, but the legal processes — they can’t prove anything because they don’t have evidence.”

Connors stopped short of sending a cease-and-desist letter to the MeToo Kit Company, something done by the attorneys general of Michigan and New York — the latter also sent a cease-and-desist letter to Preservekit, a company with a similar product. But Connors joined attorneys general of Michigan and North Carolina, as well as the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in New York, in warning against use of such self-administered evidence collection kits.

The statement said Connors’ office “will continue to closely follow the matter to determine if additional actions are needed.”

The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence issued a statement Aug. 30 that said: “We do not advise anyone to use an at-home rape kit as a viable alternative to a forensic exam. We also do not advise that any college or university encourage students to use this product or make it available for use. MeToo Kit has provided no information to explain how these kits will be admissible in court and how the proper chain of custody will be followed. Though MeToo Kit has stated that they have consulted with prosecutors who approve of their kits, they have provided no names of individual prosecutors or state and national prosecutor associations who have endorsed the product.”

Campbell told the website BuzzFeed News she plans to go ahead with the kit, despite the warnings and cease-and-desist letters.

“I believe in this so much I an willing to fight,” Campbell told the news site Thursday. “I will never stop fighting, and if that requires legislation to change, then I will stand up in court and I will make sure survivors have the right to take control of their own body.”

Authorities advise sexual assault victims on the Big Island to call police and the YWCA’s Sexual Assault Support Services 24-hour hotline at 935-0677.

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Those interested in the status of their sexual assault evidence collection kits or information about the Hawaii Sexual Assault Kit Initiative’s Project Malama Kakou are asked to go online to http://ag.hawaii.gov/hisaki.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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