State warns against at-home sexual assault evidence collection kits
It's a well-intentioned idea, but Alaskans should stay away — that was the warning from the Department of Law Monday regarding start-up companies in the Lower 48 offering at-home sexual assault evidence collection kits.
In a release, Alaska's Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and the DOL said the test kits, used without the supervision of medical professionals, could end up hurting victims in the long run and potentially allow their attackers to go free.
"The gold standard for victim-centered investigations in sexual assault cases is the use of a multi-disciplinary team called a Sexual Assault Response Team. This allows the medical documentation of potential injuries, taking victim statements, and the gathering of forensic evidence all at the same time. This method minimizes re-traumatizing a victim by having them relive the assault over and over again for each of the steps in the investigation." said L. Diane Casto, CDVSA's executive director in the release. "We need to make victims feel safe coming forward, having a medical expert conduct the examination, and connecting the victim to other important and needed assistance, such as a victim advocate. These at-home kits could mislead victims into thinking they have done all they need to do—that couldn't be further from the truth."
Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore, who also serves as a member on the council, said the at-home kits create a questionable chain of custody starting with the victim, rather than a medical provider.
"A home kit will just make the prosecution more difficult and risk a lot of unwanted questions for the survivor, such as was the evidence really collected from the victim’s clothing, how exactly did that occur, what happened to it after it was collected? These are all extremely personal and difficult questions that are normally handled by a medical expert who completed the SART exam," Skidmore said in the release.
The company posted a response to one of those letters, citing two cases in which evidence collected by a victim was successfully admitted in court.
Both companies are not currently selling kits, but neither seem to have given up trying.
The MeToo Kits website tells visitors to "stay tuned for more development" and Preserve's says, "The fact is that 77% of sexual assault survivors do not report the crime. The PRESERVEkit exists for the 77%."
Neither company responded to requests for comment Monday.
"Victims are often attacked. They are disbelieved," Skidmore said during an interview. "For whatever reason, our society doesn't want to trust or believe that this horrible thing happens as frequently as it does. And that's a difficult problem, but that's a cultural change that we need to work on. And there are other things we can do in the criminal justice system, but these home kits really aren't the solution to get more people to report."
Skidmore said the notice to Alaskans was a preventative measure and that no at-home kits have been turned in to authorities in Alaska.
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