Note to readers: We don’t even read most press releases in the Dig newsroom, let alone publish them line by line. But as you will see, this one seemed like information that we needed to pass on in full. -Dig Editors
The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) is cautioning schools, businesses, and individual consumers from purchasing, using, or promoting the use of at-home evidence collection kits by survivors of sexual assault. BARCC’s warning comes in response to the news that a Brooklyn-based company is marketing at-home evidence collection kits, called “MeToo Kits,” to universities.
“This is a deeply problematic response to the epidemic of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault laid bare by the resurrection of the #MeToo movement. The entire point of a forensic exam conducted after a sexual assault is to provide supportive care, treat physical injuries, prescribe medication that reduces the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and collect forensic evidence that would stand up during an investigation and potential prosecution,” said Gina Scaramella, BARCC’s executive director. “When done correctly, a forensic exam takes from three to eight hours. It is impossible for an at-home kit to address a survivor’s medical treatment needs, and evidence collected at home would most likely not be admissible in court.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has already issued a cease and desist order to the Brooklyn-based MeToo Kit company for falsely implying in its marketing materials that evidence collected with the MeToo Kit could be used in a prosecution. The Campus Advocacy & Prevention Professionals Association (CAPPA) has also urged campuses to reject efforts by the MeToo Kit company to form partnerships because they do not connect survivors with health-care treatment or with rape crisis centers and because the kits do not result in the collection of quality evidence that could be used in court.
“Here in Massachusetts, post-sexual assault exams are conducted by a sexual assault nurse examiner, who earns that title only after completing intensive certification training. That training provides the education and experience necessary to conduct quality forensic medical-legal examinations with a rape crisis advocate present,” Scaramella added. “Since these exams can be intrusive, these clinicians are also trained in providing trauma-informed care, which reduces the likelihood that survivors will be re-traumatized by the exam itself. Any injuries are examined and appropriate medical care, including preventative care, is explained and initiated on the spot. The health and well-being of the survivor is always the top priority, and survivors are connected to resources for further support.”
During a forensic medical exam following a sexual assault, the examiner documents what happened during the assault by asking questions and listening, and then collecting relevant evidence. If a survivor discloses that they were bitten during the assault, the nurse will swab the site of the bite for DNA, and also look for and document skin abrasions. If a survivor discloses that the assault took place outside on a field, the medical examiner will look for grass stains on their clothing and skin. Evidence collected in this way by a third party initiates a formal chain of custody that is required for admissibility in law enforcement investigations and criminal prosecutions.
Massachusetts has one of the country’s most robust systems of response to sexual assaults. Medical treatment is coordinated with evidence collection and access to additional resources, such as those provided by rape crisis centers, that will be needed long after the initial exam is over.
For more information, please visit Forensics for Survivors (from the Access to Forensic Information Project) and the Mass Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program.